Thursday, January 19, 2012

Carrion Crown: Trial of the Beast pt. 2

So, from the longest Carrion Crown post, to the perhaps shortest. I suppose we’re still safe within statistical borders.
But truth to be told, while our latest session was indeed neither longer nor particularly shorter than the ordinary, it didn’t involve an overwhelming amount of action as the investigation truly took over. I will do my best to relay the experience in this week’s blog, but be prepared for some of my personal GM-ramblings. Additionally, we had a small attendance, as two of our players were on holiday, leaving Aldarion the conjurer, Mutt the barbarian and Edgar the cleric behind. Yet, we thought it worth to play anyway.
The Manticore had crashed into the surface of the Morast-swamp like a meteor into an ocean. A lot of water had been sprayed all over the place, and Mutt emerged victorious with the intimidating head of the beast on his shoulder. Throwing it to the ground, he shrugged and said “So, we had business here, right?”
“I suggest we start searching this place thoroughly,” Edgar said “perhaps we will find some clues as to what happened exactly.”
They spread out and began making perception checks on the small isle. Close to the Manticore nest they found the aged corpse of a dead dwarf, wearing a brightly colorful cape and poor remains of a once red beard. His possessions still intact, the heroes took them and noticed his presence. The young scout they brought along from Morast didn’t recognize him.
Despite some initial difficulties, they quickly found an old abandoned camp along the southern shore. Apparently, whoever owned it before was now long gone.
Besides an old wineskin, still containing some decent Ustalavanian wine, the heroes uncovered an old box containing decomposed rations and an empty vial smelling oddly of carrots.
“This smell,” Aldarion said “I recognize it. It’s an alchemist’s darkvision extract?”
“What would that be doing out here?” Edgar asked.
“I have no idea…”
Moving on they soon found a small boat, well hidden in the dense growth as well. Along with that, an old rope had been attached to something heavy, apparently on the bottom of the swamp. As they dragged it out of water, they saw it was a sack. The heroes then did some gruesome discoveries. Obvious stains of blood decorated the boat as well as the old large sack. Some mere artisan’s clothes involved an apron, old boots and a shirt, and three knives turned up along with them. What really caught their attention was an old human face, nothing but a thin sheet of skin. It looked old.
Staring at the grisly item, the young scout from Morast quickly pointed at it.
“That’s Nan Klebem!” he uttered. “At least, what’s left of him. He was a poacher who occasionally visited Morast, but he disappeared some time ago.”
“How long?”
“…about a year, I’d think?”
Edgar fiddled a bit with the boat and suddenly found an interesting small leather sack (the DC of this item is really high, but luckily the player rolled a natural 20 on his check). It contained a masterfully crafted set of surgical silver tools and knives, decorated with tiny gemstones. At the bottom a tiny raven was depicted.
“This hardly seems coincidental,” the cleric mumbled. “Any of you know about this?”
“I do,” Mutt said “That’s the mark of ‘Zbraslav Hora and Sons’. They have a shop in Lepidstadt, down at Anatomist Alley! I suppose we might pay them a small visit.”
As they were discussing, they managed to make another interesting observation. It seemed as if six graves were unusually sunken, as if someone had recently disturbed them. Mutt immediately snatched a shovel from the old boat and started digging. The young scout interfered, arguing fiercely that this was the old sacred ground of Morast and that the heroes had no rights to disturb it like that. With a high intimidation roll, Mutt yelled the scout back to the boat, and down a few levels from ‘friendly’ attitude. (This is truly something that will bite the heroes in the ass later on. See later blogs.)
They discovered that the graves were indeed empty. After pondering for a while, they concluded that someone had indeed stolen six bodies and that the face belonged to the presumably dead poacher Nan Klebem. They then headed back to Morast in order to investigate the poacher and the dead dwarf some more.
(GM’s take notice; Some words about the investigation technique in Trial: There are really two different ways to run it. The easy and the hard mode. As written, I do think the adventure intends for the easy mode, but it hands a lot to the players, as all it does, is making them roll the relevant skill whenever they stumble on something that could be a clue. Afterwards they’re awarded the fact and the XP for it.
The hard way, which I used, involves the players actually verbalizing their thoughts and conclusions aloud. In this case it happened through dialogue, and if you’ve read or played this adventure, you’ll know they missed out a couple of things. That being said, it’s not too late for them to make connections later on, and the logic involved isn’t always a bright as the adventure intends it to be.

Additionally, it was kind of a surprise to see how much of a red herring the dead dwarf became. My players were obsessing about him, and he barely has an identity in the adventure at all).
Returning to Lepidstadt
The heroes arrived at around 3AM back in town, in which most of the festivities had died out. Initially they decided to do some gathering of information about the dwarf (again, sometimes it’s so hard to keep the straight GM-face) and the poacher. Sadly, all good rolls had been spent in the swamp and they didn’t come up with anything they didn’t already know.
With the clock approaching 4AM, they decided to push the matter and actually seek out Zbraslav Hora and Sons at the late hours. Easily finding Anatomist Alley, they shortly after knocked on the door, loudly. Initially there was silence, before an elderly voice told them to go away and come back tomorrow.
It took a certain amount of persuasion and insurance that they merely wanted some information, weren’t with The Watch and most importantly; could pay handsomely for it.
Old Zbraslav remembered the surgical tools, and recommended them to seek out a woman named Vladka Kostel. She bought them quite some time ago. The name immediately rang a bell in Mutt’s head, as he and Vladka had some of a past together (Again, natural 20’es bind people together in Knowledge: Local checks). Last he heard, she was involved with an auction house led by Ollo Klud. The heroes paid their hefty sum for the information and immediately headed out.
Arriving late at night, there was a lot of fuss with the stationed guards, who happily took a significant bribe if they were to let the heroes enter the house. And even then, they didn’t bother waking up Vladka. While Mutt made sure not to reveal himself, Edgar spoke diplomatically to the young and confused woman in her night gown, explaining how much was at stake if they didn’t track down the owner of the tools.
Vladka felt sympathy for the heroes and after a payment, she accessed some old ledgers and found out that the alchemist Radniche bought them more than a year ago. He had his shop further down on Anatomist Alley.
BAD BOYS! Whatcha gonna do?
According to Vladka’s description, Radniche was a man with an unusually tall hat and green tinted glasses. The heroes were absolutely sure he was their man, so they took the time to closely inspect his shop. It was in two floors with a main entrance and three windows on the top floor. Breaking in without their rogue wasn’t an option and neither did they want to wait till 6AM at which he opened.
Spending more than half an hour offgame, they decided to perform a cunning plan…
It's flawless!
Edgar knocked on the door to the shop, quickly ran away. Immediately Aldarion projected a silent image of Vladka, standing on the street carrying the surgical tools.
Radniche opened his windows on the first floor, groggily looking down at her.
“Vladka?” he exclaimed “What are you doing here at these hours?”
The image merely made of silent gesture for him to be quiet and come down, as she began walking up the street.
(I don’t think there are any official rules dealing with this, but I tend to let such plans go just to see what comes next in the sick minds of my players)
Radniche became curious and got sparsely dressed, ran out on the street, locked the door and went after Vladka. In the meantime, Aldarion followed closely in the shadows, concentrating on his image.
“Vladka, what are you doing? What’s happening? Why aren’t you saying something? Hello?”
In the meantime, Mutt climbed the front of the store, made his way more or less silently through a window and went down into the store. The general idea was to find the basement, in which every bad guy stores his vile experiments. Locating a door at ground level, Mutt immediately began bashing it down, resulting in him setting off an Alarm trap.
Edgar ran off immediately, Mutt made a burst through the store and out on the street, and Aldarion quickly cancelled his illusion and headed for far away. Behind him, the angry screams of Radniche were loud and clear…
The party rendezvoused at ‘The Golden Cat’ half an hour later. The time was steadily approaching 5AM, and with only five more hours before the trial, they decided to give it an hour before heading down to the shop during daylight.
They then realized that despite nightly occurrences, the alchemist had his shop open for business. The heroes concluded it was time for a more subtle approach. Entering the store, Aldarion cast his mind reading spell and Edgar made sure to question Radniche about recent events regarding the beast and Morast, including the poacher. The alchemist seemed genuinely angry at what happened this night, and when asked about the subjects, he’d sincerely admit he knew very little about them. His thoughts confirmed the same, even that he had never even seen the Beast. So as the spell wore off, they both decided to buy four vials of anti-toxin and leave.
The morale was getting pretty low at this point. The Mutt got an idea.

Heading into the store, he presented himself as a bounty hunter, showing Radniche the surgical tools. He told him that he recently killed a gang of bandits carrying this, and now wanted to return it for a proper reward. Whereas the alchemist doubted the story a bit, he was also a greedy soul. For a 100 gold, he would gladly tell him who he sold those tools to, about 1½ year ago.
Mutt obliged and as Radniche counted his money he said “I sold them to that Vorkstag-fellow. Creepy guy. Came in here and seemed very interesting, owns the chymic works down the street. That’s all I know. Now, beat it! You’re bad for business!”
I need not mention how quickly the heroes moved on, their eyes sprung red and bloodlust teeming from their bodies.
(That was indeed extremely unexpected, but they players truly decided that Radniche was the evil guy, when he, in facts, is nothing more than another link in the investigation. Notice that I did leave out a few minor elements to keep it short, such as contacting Ollo Klud. The adventure also states that the stores are closed in this period of time, but I think it’s fair to let them pay their way through it. It’s a good opportunity if you want to trim out in their resources a bit.)
Alchemist Brothers Crash and Burn
The address provided led the heroes to a two-floor-building at the edge of town, with a tower and smog risings from chimneys. It was quite discrete, and nothing but a small sign indicated that this was a business. It read “Vorkstag and Grine’s Chymic Works”. A small iron fenced barred of a little courtyard, in which an old wagon rested and a main door, and a double door dominated the gable. Up on the first floor, another double door could be seen.
As the heroes entered they could hear a faint growling from a crudely constructed dog house. They felt that they were being watched by something in there. Yet, the creature didn’t throw itself at them immediately, but they certainly felt they weren’t welcome here.
Sadly, a whole night of defeat drove them to ring the bell loudly.
After a while the upper door opened and a small gnomish creature stuck out his head. He carried a deep blue cloak.
“What is it you want?” he sneered. “We’ve got more than enough customers!”
“We’re here to see Mr. Vorkstag!” Edgar said. “We have something he’d likely be interested in…”
“As I said, we have all the business we need. We’re not taking anymore orders. Now, leave!”
“I am afraid not! We are pretty sure Mr. Vorkstag would truly like to see this. It has relevance for the recent events that have occurred…”
The gnome fell silent. Then he snapped “Show me what it is!”
“Can’t do, we’re afraid. Get us an audience with Vorkstag and we will talk!”
“No, show it to me!”
“Audience!”
The gnome sized them up with his eyes. Then nodded.
“Wait here!” he finally said and shut the door.
10 minutes passed.
He then opened the small door to the side and waved them in.
Upon entering, they noticed the harsh smell of bleach and acid in the air. The sound of a factory heavily weighted upon their ears, and got louder as the gnome told them to crawl down the ladder, into the basement level. The heroes realized that the entire staff consisted of acid-struck mongrelmen, eyeing them suspiciously.
As soon as they reached the middle of the floor, they noticed the gnome still standing at the top of the stair. “I’ve kept half my part of the deal. Now, show me what it is that’s so interesting! NOW!”
Hesitantly the heroes revealed the surgical tools.
“Just as I suspected,” the gnome said. “I’m afraid you know too much. GET THEM!”
While the mongrelmen threw themselves at the heroes, the gnome turned into his true form, a dark creeper. Grine, as his name was, immediately fell into position and landed a sneak attack on Mutt with this throwing axe. The poison took no effect.
The heroes were far from rested and had limited resources, so Mutt started chopping some mongrelman, while Edgar moved to heal. Suddenly, they noticed a sinister being leaping down to their floor, barely wearing any flesh. It grinned, shining with magical buffs, and said “You were looking for me?” while obtaining an alchemist-bomb from its belt. They had found Vorkstag.
The alchemist lobbed a grenade into the fray and detonated the entire group for a solid amount of damage. On the following turn, Grine leaped into the fray, but couldn’t evade a powerful attack of opportunity from Mutt. Cursing, the creeper cast ‘Darkness’ in the area, rendering everyone but himself and Vorkstag blind (Vorkstag drinks his extract of Darkvision in advance)
Grine
Mutt remained in the darkness to keep the mongrelmen and Grine busy, whereas Edgar hurled himself at Vorkstag. He didn’t manage to inflict any damage, but got some beating of his own. Aldarion ran to the far corner of the room, out of the darkness, and conjured a deep pit below Vorkstag. Even with his mighty +11 reflex save, he rolled a 4 on his dice, and thus fell screamingly to the bottom.
Grine, happy in his natural element, chopped another  huge wound into Mutt, who had to advance out of the darkness, slowly. Even though the barbarian had an impressive health pool, it was dropping rapidly. He attempted to place another hit on Grine, but missed due to the darkness.
Edgar moved away from the pit and unleashed a channeling of positive energy, making sure to catch Mutt in the blast. Aldarion slowly advanced towards the pit, preparing a spell to push Vorkstag back into the pit, should he come out.
Vorkstag drank his spider climb potion and in the next turn began ascending the 20 foot deep pit. He did make it out and Aldarion’s roll wasn’t high enough to push him back into the pit. At this time, Mutt managed to land a mighty blow on Grine, dropping him well below 0 hit points. Vorkstag sneered at the death of his companion and furiously began hurling bombs at the party, hoping the remaining mongrel would provide a shield.
Elegantly evading attacks of opportunity, Vorkstag acrobatic’ed his way out of Mutt’s reach and flung a bomb right in his face. The barbarian bled severely. He had managed to evade some of the monster’s attacks, but the situation was tight. In a roar he sliced Vorkstag across the chest, making the desperate alchemist slash out with both claws, sending Mutt to the floor. Edgar immediately ran from the threatening mongrelman, taking a hit along the way, and invoked the power of Gond through a wand. It was all they had left. The roll wasn’t good, but enough to get Mutt going. Aldarion hurled his final acid arrow at the monster, who fiercely attempted to bring down Mutt another time. He failed miserably on bad dice rolls, and on his turn, the barbarian impaled their final enemy with a decisive strike.
Vorkstag
Bathed in blood, the heroes collapsed from fatigue on the floor, their enemies scattered around them in pieces.

It was time for a little break.
(We ended the session here, as there is plenty do discover in the house. Somehow, this is one of those encounters which force you to chose between light or dark side, when your players act as stupid as they do ((Sorry players, you did)).  Heading right up without rest, knocking on the enemy’s door, following him right into his lair and getting jumped, while he has time to prepare. I couldn’t justify it in any other way than to let them take the full consequences.
The players were limited by only being three, but at least the combat took place below the tanks, not on the rafters above them. Mostly because the space was very tight and mostly designed to encountering either Grine or Vorkstag, one at the time. It quickly gets very crowded, and the mongrelmen were supposed to do just what they did. Get in the way and annoy.

Grine hurts immensely, and the whole Darkness setup is nothing less than insanely annoying to the players. As he can easily see everything, it’s free sneak attacks for him. Vorkstag’s bombs hurt for 2D6+4, hitting with around +9 I think, and he has eight of them. His claws are also capable of hurting a lot, and he has a whopping 72 hit points.
I won’t lie here, had it not been for the great crowd control from the pit and the fact that the evil alchemists had some bad rolls, they would’ve annihilated the party. This one was beyond doubt way more close than, say, the Splatter.
It’s a good idea to read up on this encounter beforehand. I did forget some minor details, but nothing that would’ve changed all that much. I didn’t include everything about the fight here, as it took around an hour of playtime to execute. But the gist of it; it was epic. And I look very much forward to see what the heroes will think about their discoveries in the house.)

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