Thursday, November 10, 2011

Carrion Crown: Haunting of Harrowstone pt. 1

(Carrion Crown spoilers ahead. You are hereby warned.)
As some of you may know, I recently finished ’Savage Tide’ after two years of dedication with four of my friends. It was an awesome ride. One that I really wanted to elaborate further on, but regrettably a lot of the final showdown consisted of side plots that would take a long time to explain in writing. Instead I hope that I will eventually finish my long overdue journal of the players’ adventure.
I think it was Stephen King who once said that the best time to start a new book is the moment after you finished one. The same counts for campaigns, in my opinion. That’s why I, shortly after, decided to begin a whole new adventure.
Namely; The Carrion Crown.
Finding the Path
I’ll admit it took some persuasion beforehand. For a short moment I truly considered shutting down my longstanding GM-career and focus solely on being an entitled player. But my eternal problem is; I want other campaigns to be like my own. Which usually means I either quit or annoy the hell out of my GM’s.
I therefore sat down and gathered a whole new team of players. Then I reflected upon the hard earned lessons from two years of D&D 3.5. What did I like and what did I loathe?
There were several points, but they could all be summed up as the insane degree of power play the campaign eventually took. Of course, the one to receive the majority of the blame was me. The game was my responsibility and it was stupid of me to allow the players so much freedom, especially when they were as proficient as they were. Allowing ‘Book of Nine Swords’ was a bad decision too. A lot of people have had heated discussions about this, but I’ll be honest and say: I absolutely fucking hate it.
I understand that there is an inherent problem in the system that tends to make many melee-oriented classes much less desirable than their arcane/divine counterparts. But the step this book took was in some sense way too much, especially in the hands of seasoned players. My advice to any aspiring GM out there who (like me) is too busy to study every book and/or combination the players want to utilize; if in doubt, don’t use it. But I’m drifting off the subject. That is, truly, for another article.
I therefore decided that we would go back to basic, hopefully with some minor adjustments. Another severely annoying factor for Savage Tide was the fact that my players utilized so much new stuff, whereas the adventure path seemed designed mostly for core book-parties. It often left the monsters utterly devastated. In addition, I loathe 3.5 because of its many mechanics by which you can bypass the weapons of the enemies. Once you start popping those death wards, freedom of movements and heroes’ feasts, you need to find the creativity in you, in order to keep encounters challenging.
I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder lately, and I like how they’ve dealt with a lot of the issues that plagued me in 3.5 (certainly not all, but we were at a point where every little bit helps). This seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to actually GM in it as well.
Now, this is starting to look like a party!
I have four players, three men and one woman, and gave them 20 points to shop stats for. They’re all seasoned players, so I decided: This time it’s my fucking turn. They were allowed to use the core book and the advanced players’ guide only. Not (only) because I’m a douche, but I didn’t want to fall into the Savage Tide trap again.
On the monster-side; I plan on using the newly released and redesigned Tome of Horrors, featuring 800 pages of horrible monsters for side quests. In other words, I am playing with forbidden books this time.
The party setup is;
Aldoriel, the elven conjurer.
Egdar, the steampunk-inspired cleric of Gond
Grendell, the halfling rogue
Vincent, the human sorcerer

Allow me to say; there are some REALLY nice adventure paths out there and I had a hard time finally deciding. In the end it was a tie between Council of Thieves, Serpent Skull and Carrion Crown (CC). Back then I already played in Rise of the Runelords and I’m about to play in a Legacy of Fire campaign soon, so those two were ruled out quickly.

Why Carrion Crown and…what is it; TLDR?

Roque, however, ran some of Council and warned me against it. Whether or not he’s right, he didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to take the chance. I was REALLY keen on Serpent Skull, but if you compare it to Savage Tide… I don’t know. It seemed like more of the same, setting-wise at least.
I’ve heard so many good things about Carrion Crown. And I love undeads. Ever since I took up the GM-mantle at the age of 16, the necromantic armies caught my fascination like nothing else. And they most often make the players utter the ever amusing “Fuck you…” statement.
In a nutshell, CC takes place in the far away Immortal Principality of Ustalav, an RPG counterpart to the ever classical dark Transylvania. Ustalav has seen its share of misery through the times, including an invasion and the bleak outlook on life that is so dominant for the average citizen. Still, whereas you certainly couldn’t call it optimism, most folks in Ustalav are as solid as the rock under their feet. The farmers know that even though things could be better, they certainly have been a whole lot worse.

On the political scale, the western part of Ustalav is currently seeing a governmental reformation as the ruling organ is slowly changing to a more democratic model.  Not that it’s of much concern to most honest men making their living in the rural areas, mostly by farming, peat and livestock.
Everyone in my group knows a lot about Forgotten Realms and very little of Golarion. We therefore decided to place Ustalav just to the north-east of Zenthil Keep, to the east of the vast swamp.

One of these rural areas is the city of Ravengro. With its measly population of 311 souls it has certainly eluded much of the outside world, much to its satisfaction. People in Ravengro don’t take kindly to strangers.
Which is sad news, as they’re soon about to greet four new faces in town…
Chapter 1: Harrowstone Prison – Arriving in Ravengro.
HSP is the first chapter of six that make up the CC adventure path. During this installment the heroes are all invited to the funeral of Professor Petros Lorrimor, by his daughter Kendra Lorrimor. The professor was a man of some renown, not only around town, but also in the lands around the Sea of Shooting Stars which he often travelled during his young years.

Professor Lorrimor
All the heroes had their respective reasons for attending the funeral. Edgar the cleric had a debt to settle, as he once won a particularly rare flask of brandy in a game of poker with the professor. Grendell, who was originally raised by a griffon, once found the professor lost deep inside a cave and led the poor man to freedom. Aldoriel was a long standing co-researcher, who was sad to see the early demise of his good friend, and frankly, nobody knows Vincent’s connection to the professor…yet.
The players all arrived at the rocky areas around Ustalav, and I read the following passage to them:
“They call the town ‘Ravengro’… The origin of the name has been long lost in the mists of history. And who would mind? Not that many people care. Very few foreigners would spend a fleeting thought, let alone a gaze, about this place. In truth, Ravengro is not a place you want to look at for long, if you even manage to spot it as you traverse the sharp cliffs. You’re often too busy minding the chasms or avoiding the countless of wild animals that creep out at the darkest hours.
Not that darkness is an unknown guest in these areas. Some say that the years after the invasion only brought an eternal carpet of grey clouds and bad weather, cursing generations with heavy rain and a bleak mood. People would scuttle towards the shelter of their houses or the overarching cliffs above them, as they saw the few remaining colors of the gardens drown out in an impossible battle.
If you’re one of the desperate, unlucky or just weird strangers in town, you’ll notice the trodden road leading you down the cliffs, heading towards the tiny settlement in the far distance. It’s a solid road. Not one that takes you there quickly, but things in Ravengro have never been hasty. And you’re likely not missing much in the other end.
The feeling of subtle rain against your face is cold, as you check your belongings once more. You notice an old sign, heavy with decay. Through the raindrops you barely make out the name of the city and you can’t help wondering whether this is truly a place you want to be in?
A few miles up the road you see the landscape elevate and carry a small clump of houses. A sorry excuse for a city wall has been erected, but it’s more like a fence. Like their citizens, they have likely stood for eons in the rain, storm and hailstone. Silent and untouched.Behind the city a sinister dark shape rises against the sky. You’ve heard of the ruins of the old prison that once made Ravengro famous in its own peculiar way. Today it’s nothing more than a monument of former glory. It’s appropriate that the only remaining attraction besides it is the vast graveyard in the other end of town.
As you journey up the road, you notice several peasants eyeing you while they gather the last peat for today. Their signals are cold at best. Their eyes narrow and hostile. The recent influx of strangers has not been received well. You know that your presence will be monitored closely, till you prove your worth. For good or ill.
The path into town is not guarded. Neither is it decorative or inviting, as people around these parts don’t need that fanciness. Instead, you see an old map outlining the highlights of the town, and an old creaky sign spelling “Welcome to Ravengro. Spellcasters will be shot.”
(I added the spellcaster thing myself. The average citizen is deeply distrustful of the supernatural, so it seemed logical. In truth, Ravengro houses a few casters, but they’re either trusted or simply too old and confused to pose any appearing threat)
Ravengro at a gaze consists of:

A: Town Square
B: Posting Poles
C: The Laughing Demon Inn
D: Town Hall
E: Temple of Kelemvor
F: General Store
G: The Forge
H: Jominda’s Apothecary
I: Jail
J: The Silk Purse Loaners
K: The Outward Inn
L: The Unfurling Scroll
M1: Vashian Heartmound’s House (Councilman)
M2: Mirta Straelock’s House (Councilwoman)
M3: Shanda Faravan’s House (Councilwoman)
M4: Gharen Muricar’s House (Councilman)
N: The Lorrimor Estate
O: The Harrowstone Memorial
P: The Restlands
Q: Mr. Gibbs house
R: Ruins of Harrowstone
Edgar the cleric and Grendell the rogue arrived first. They’ve met outside the professor’s house and exchanged a few words that were more like statements. Edgar is the strong and silent Clint Eastwood type, all about no bullshit unless it involves inventions and construction. Grendell, on the other hand, had a really hard time connecting with the citizens, most of them either ignoring him or shoving him off (‘go away, child!’).
Not long after, Vincent and Aldoriel both arrived at the gates of the town. They were suddenly stopped, however, by a stern man blocking their way. “I don’t fancy the looks of you,” he said. “Why should I allow people of your kind to enter town? You knew the old professor?”
As they confirmed his suspicion, the man leaned closer and looked at them menacingly “Here’s a free piece of advice” he said “don’t do anything rash. In fact, it would be great if you just turned around and left. Soon. Your kind is not welcome here!”
Vincent, wearing sparkly clothes, necklaces, a tall, pointy hat and glittering staff, flamboyantly smiled. “My good Sir,” he began “I assure you there is NOTHING to fear from us. Allow me to introduce myself, I; am Vincent Chrommagus. Runs in the family, if you know what I mean, eh? Haha!”
“You’re one of those fancy smarty types, ain’t you?”
“Why yes certainly, I—“
“I hate your kind even more” the man spat as he began walking away “mark you my words, I’ll be watching you. You too, knife-ears!”
When he was finally gone a huge bunch of kids had huddled up and gazed curiously at the two strangers. They exchanged shocked statements before arriving at the professor’s house, at which they formally greeted to two other guests, Edgar and Grendell. It seemed like nobody else had shown up.
After knocking, Kendra Lorrimor opened the door. Her eyes were red and rested in a face clearly depraved of sleep. A feeble attempt at setting her hair straight had been done.
“Oh it’s you!” she whimpered “It’s so good to see you! Where is the others?”
“There are no others,” Edgar said. “We’re the only ones…”
Kendra looked down both streets nervously but only saw curious faces from the citizens. She leaned back towards the door with a deep sigh. She told them that she had hoped for more attendees but made sure to express her gratitude to the four travelers. Preperations had been made so the funeral march could start any time, in which they would carry the coffin to the Restlands, where Father Grimburrow awaited. However, it appeared that she had to hire a few hands to carry the other side of the coffin, so she excused herself for a moment.
The travelers spent some time getting to know each other meanwhile. None of them had a great impression of the town and they had to admit that none of them actually knew about the cause of death for the old professor?
However, during their talk, they noticed a small group of children playing not far away. They were singing some kind of rhyme that quickly caught their attention:
“Put her body on the bed.
Take a knife and lop her head.
Watch the blood come out the pipe.
Feeds the stirge, so nice and ripe.
Drops of red so sparkly bright.
Splatters spell her name just right.
With a hammer killed his wife.
Now he wants to claim your life.
Tricksy father tells a lie.
Listen close or you will die.”
They decided that this town had some sick kids and waited for Kendra to return.
(I really don’t get it. I got to run this event twice with different groups and NONE of them thought about stopping and asking the kids about this rhyme? Wouldn’t you do that??)
Kendra returned with some hired hands that helped carry the coffin to the Restlands. On their way, several citizens were watching the funeral march from their windows.
The funeral and the last Will of Professor Lorrimor
Just before the march reached the Restlands they were stopped by an angry mob of people, led by the stern man who stopped Aldorien and Vincent at the gate. Kendra coldly addressed him as “Mr. Gibbs…”
“That’s far enough, Kendra” he said “we’ve talked and we decided that you can’t bury the old man here in the Restlands. You can take him up river and do it.”
“What?” Kendra stuttered “What are you saying? I’ve made arrangements with Father Grimburrow. He’s waiting at the—“
“You don’t get it woman! We don’t want necromancers in our holy ground!”
“Necromancers? What are you talking about? Are you an idiot?”
“Cease this madness,” Edgar said “who are you to deny this dead man his final rest? Have you no respect for the dead at all?”
“You dare talk back to me on what authority?” Gibbs sneered.
“None other than that of what is right and holy! Everyone here is attempting to sabotage a most sacred ritual that has stood beyond ages. Can’t you see the folly of this?”
(Edgar had a really bad Diplomacy roll)
Gibbs laughed heartedly and gave his men the signal to attack. Six of them, however, didn’t really want to risk upsetting Father Grimburrow and fled, leaving the six most drunk (and bloodthirsty) behind.
(Compared to Savage Tide the first battle of CC is downright easy. The peasants are trivial at best and the only danger is how the PC chose to handle the fight. On one hand, if they simply rush into battle with no concern for the coffin, they might very well drop it. This results in the professor tumbling out on the ground, horrifying everyone. This damages the heroes’ reputation in town. On the other hand, they’ll also get very unpopular if they kill any of the drunkards. They might be out for fights, but certainly not for killing. It’s very easy for the players to lose a lot of reputation here.)
The battle was over quickly. Two goons were knocked unconscious and the rest quickly fled with Mr. Gibbs.  The march continued to the restlands, where Father Grimburrow waited. He was infuriated to hear about the events and healed Grendell’s wounds from the fight.

Father Grimburrow
The speech went smoothly and the heroes were allowed to say a few words as well. Whereas both Aldoriel and Grendell held decent speeches, Vincent made an attempt of bursting into tears at every opportunity. Sadly some bad bluff rolls secured them the scorn of every attendee, meaning the heroes lost their first Trust point for disrespectful behavior. Kendra, mildly confused about the eccentric performance, told them they should get back to the house, as the will was about to be announced.

(CC operates with Trust-points. Whenever the heroes do good deeds and put themselves in a good light, they receive points. If they act badly or make idiots out of themselves they lose them. Starting at 20 the players can advance up to 36 at which they receive free healing, 20% discount at stores, gifts from citizens and even their own personal henchman. Alternatively, the lower you go, the more expensive everything becomes and eventually an angry mob will chase them out of the city. It’s a brilliant system.
I advice every GM to look over the system, though. There are several ways to lose Trust but few to gain it. I suggest either doubling the gains or award them ad hoc, based on good deeds. Otherwise it’s very hard to reach a high level during this adventure.)
On their way out they met Sheriff Benjan Caeller with two of his deputies, busy bringing the two unconscious thugs into custody. He stopped the foreigners for a quick chat about what happened. The heroes made a good impression on him and he admitted that lately things had been stirring in a most unusual way in Ravengro. There was something about the death of the professor he couldn’t put his finger on. And it bothered him.
He told them that he was found dead 17 days ago, at the outskirts of old Harrowstone Prison. Apparently, his skull had been smashed by a piece of a broken gargoyle falling on his head. He had no possession when they found him.
Benjan Caeller
The heroes asked him about the old prison, and the sheriff’s face turned gloomy. That was a grim tale indeed. He told them that Harrowstone used to be the most famous prison in Ustalav, even in the countries around it. Housing some of the most dangerous criminals the world had ever seen, Harrowstone received new inmates twice a year and kept them under lock till their death sentence could be carried out.
About 50 years ago, five particularly dangerous criminals were brought to the place. Known as Father Charlatan, The Lopper, The piper of Illmarsh, The Mosswater Marauder and The Splatter Man these five brought the nerves of the guards to new heights. And with good reason. Only short time later there was a riot. A bloody riot.
Luckily, Warden Hawkran isolated himself along with his most trusted guards, with the rest of the criminals in the lower compound. The only escape was a lift that was operated by the guards upstairs that quickly reacted by rising it. The criminals attempted to bargain with the life of Warden Hawkran, but the guards were stalwart.
Only later, when Hawkran’s wife, Vessoriana Hawkran, started wondering about his absence she went into the prison.  When she was confronted with the truth she panicked and managed to lower the lift, screaming to her beloved to jump unto it. In fact she managed to kill several guards and inmates below it and, even worse, destroy the mechanism. The guards placed the hysterical woman under lock and bar, while considering what to do next. The maddened criminals started climbing the chasm, fueled by rage and insanity, and in a final attempt to drive them off, the guards poured lamb oil over them.  While initially effectual to scare them off, things got dicey once the Splatterman arrived and began casting spells at the guards. Blind panic kicked in. One of the guards threw a torch down the chasm and a moment later a roaring inferno detonated throughout the prison. Flames engulfed every corridor and hall. The entire lower complex was a howling pit of hellfire as every living soul succumbed in the smoldering sea.
Panicked, the guards fled the prison, never to be seen again. Sadly, nobody remembered Vessoriana, who was still locked in her cell. She, as well as everyone else in Harrowstone, died that night.
The ruins were now undisturbed. They hadn’t been touched much in the last 50 years although they were the source of many great stories and rumors. A lot of people claimed them to be haunted whereas others insisted upon a great treasure being buried beneath them. Either way, the sheriff preferred not to become too involved. As long as the town was safe he was happy.
The heroes thought about the story while heading back to Kendra’s place. There was something quite disturbing about it.
Once they arrived they were greeted by an obviously bored councilman. His name was Hearthmount and he eagerly got up once everyone had arrived. Having confirmed the intact seal he unrolled the scroll, letting an iron key drop on the table. The will read:

Councilman Hearthmount
“I, Petros Lorrimor, being of sound mind, do hereby commit to this parchment my last will and testament. Let it be known that, with the exception of the specific details below, I leave my home and personal belongings entire to my daughter Kendra. Use them or sell them as you see fit, my child. “Yet beyond the bequeathing of my personal effects, this document must serve other needs. I have arranged for the reading of this document to be delayed until all principals can be in attendance, for I have more than mere inheritance to apportion. I have two final favors to ask.
“To my old friends, I hate to impose upon you all, but there are few others who are capable of appreciating the true significance of what it is I have to ask. As some of you know, I have devoted many of my studies to all manner of evil, that I might know the enemy and inform those better positioned to stand against it. For knowledge of one’s enemy is the surest path to victory over its plans. “And so, over the course of my lifetime, I have seen fit to acquire a significant collection of valuable but dangerous tomes, any one of which in the wrong circumstances could have led to an awkward legal situation. While the majority of these tomes remain safe under lock and key at the Lepidstadt University, I fear that a few I have borrowed remain in a trunk in my Ravengro home. While invaluable for my work in life, in death, I would prefer not to burden my daughter with the darker side of my profession, or worse still, the danger of possessing these tomes herself. As such, I am entrusting my chest of tomes to you, posthumously. I ask that you please deliver the collection to my colleagues at the University of Lepidstadt, who will put them to good use for the betterment of the cause.
“Yet before you leave for Lepidstadt, there is the matter of another favor—please delay your journey one month and spend that period of time here in Ravengro to ensure that my daughter is safe and sound. She has no one to count on now that I am gone, and if you would aid her in setting things in order for whatever she desires over the course of this month, you would have my eternal gratitude. From my savings, I have also willed to each of you a sum of one hundred platinum coins. For safekeeping, I have left these funds with Embreth Daramid, one of my most trusted friends in Lepidstadt she has been instructed to issue this payment upon the safe delivery of the borrowed tomes no sooner than one month after the date of the reading of this will.”

Before anyone had time to talk he wished them a goodnight and left. Kendra was staring out the window. The sky was still grey.
“I don’t know what to” she said meagerly “I just don’t know. Now that it’s over, I’m not sure what to do now…”
“Well, we’re here to look out for you, at least” Aldorien said “you should have plenty of time to think about it”.
“And in the meantime, couldn’t we see those tomes?” Vincent asked.
After rummaging through the study chamber of the professor the heroes found a collection of old tomes, well hidden beneath piles of paper. What was more interesting was their discovery of an old journal, clearly labeled “Read me! Now!” And when they did so, they noticed several passages marked with red ink. The latest one dating 17 days back. The day the professor died.
“Ten Years Ago:
The Whispering Way is more than just a cabal of necromancers. I see that now. Undeath is their
fountain of youth. Uncovering their motivation does not place me at ease as I thought it might.
Their desire to be eternal simply makes them more dangerous.
Two Months Ago:
It is as I had feared. The Way is interested in something here in Ravengro. But what could it be?
One Month Ago:
Whatever the Way seeks, I am now convinced their goal is connected to Harrowstone. In retrospect,
I suppose it all makes sense—the stories they tell about the ruins in town are certainly chilling
enough. It may be time to investigate the ruins, but with everyone in town already being so worked
up about them, I’d rather not let the others know about my curiosity—there’s plenty of folks
hereabouts who already think I’m a demonologist or a witch or something. Ignorant fools.
Twenty Days Ago:
It is confirmed. The Way seems quite interested in something—no, strike that—someone who was
held in Harrowstone. But who, specifically, is the Way after? I need a list of everyone who died
the night of the fire. Everyone. The Temple of Pharasma must have such a list.
Eighteen Days Ago:
I see now just how ill prepared I was when I last set out for the Harrowstone. I am lucky
to have returned at all. The ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts (for I did not find it prudent to
investigate further) prevented me from transcribing the strange symbols I found etched along the
foundation—hopefully on my next visit I will be more prepared. Thankfully, the necessary tools to
defend against spirits are already here in Ravengro. I know that the church of Pharasma used to
store them in a false crypt in the Restlands at the intersection between Eversleep and the Black
Path. I am not certain if the current clergy even know of what their predecessors have hidden down
below. If my luck holds, I should be able to slip in and out with a few borrowed items.
Seventeen Days Ago:
Tomorrow evening I return to the prison. It is imperative the Way does not finish. My caution
has already cost me too much time. I am not sure what will happen if I am too late, but if my
theory is right, the entire town could be at risk. I don’t have time to update my will, so I’ll
leave this in the chest where it’ll be sure to be found, should the worst come to pass.”

It now seemed certain. There was definitely something not right about the professor’s death…
Spending time in Ravengro
The rest of the day the heroes spent investigating the town. They visited the Temple, the Unfurling Scroll and the Harrowstone Memorial. Using the professor’s old notes and the Scroll’s library, the heroes uncovered information about the Whispering Way. It wasn’t that useful but still something to go on. It seemed like an ancient cult of necromancers who were seeking…undeath. By either allying with or becoming undead themselves. The records specifically mentioned their most powerful member, The Whispering Tyrant and the fact that all information about them was conducted in whispers. Their symbol seemed to be a gagged skull.
By researching the five prisoners they learned of their sinister pasts. The Piper was a man who took pleasure in poisoning his victims with lich dust, while controlling Stirges with his flute, compelling them to attack his victim. The Father was a con artist, an imposter representing several religions at once. The Mosswater Marauder sought the perfect skull fragment, having murdered his wife by crushing her skull. Hoping to bring her back, he sought the perfect chip to complete her fractured head. The Lopper was a sinister being, hiding in the most unlikely places for several days, before striking his victims. Finally, the Splatterman dwelled in the arcane arts and was fascinated by the power of names, often spelling out his victims names in blood before horribly murdering them. All of them were assumed to have died in the fire.
At the end of day the heroes decided to set out for the false tomb in the Restlands. They waited until nightfall, at which heavy rain began, and made it to the innocent looking small crypt. As they were attempting to pick its locks under the cover of darkness they were interrupted by a sudden dark shade approaching. When they looked up they realized they were surrounded by charred zombies, risen from their graves and craving mortal flesh.
It was a fierce battle. Four zombies against four level 1 adventurers is not to be taken lightly. They did, however, utilize brilliant control and lived through it. The session ended after the battle, and the heroes now have to decide what to do next. Proceed down the crypt with limited resources or head home early. And they don’t know whether anyone in town heard the struggle and will come to investigate.
To be continued next week.

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