Friday, January 27, 2012

Carrion Crown: Trial of the Beast pt. 3

Searching the Chymic Works
Silence had settled over the field of battle, mainly constituted by the sour and chemically smelling basement of the Vogstag and Grime chymic works. Besides from the bubbling from the huge tanks filled to the brim with bleach or acid, only the faint sound of dripping blood could be heard from the various scattered corpses.
The heroes were silently resting against the walls, catching their breaths through the chemic air. It had been a bloody and merciless battle, one which they barely walked away from with their lives intact. At this time, they heard the door open upstairs, and immediately sprang to their feet. Luckily, they realized, it was Grendel the halfling, who’d made his way through their tracks. After a brief update, he noticed the mutilated body of Vorgstag (still impaled by Mutt’s halberd) and the splattered mongrelmen. The problem, as the heroes saw it, was that so far they’d only acted in self-defense. If they wished for any kind of evidence, they had to case the joint, seeing as they had not left any witnesses alive. A very interesting point, however, was how they noticed scars on Vorgstag’s shoulders. Aldarion recognized these as a bite from a very strong Caiman.
Beginning from the top floor, they rummaged through some old depots, in which they only found minor alchemical items, such as a few thunderstones and some poison. In Grine’s chamber they discovered a small strongbox and a key concealed in a jar with transparent fluid. Noticing that the strongbox was trapped, the heroes assumed something of value was within, and decided to pour out the content of the jar before retrieving the key (as I once said, my players have enough experience in this field to never stick their hands into something unidentified). Opening the strongbox they found some gold and a few nice diamonds.
In Grine’s room they also located a ladder leading upwards into the small tower, but a soundburst trap on the lock sent Edward back to the floor and unleashed a swarm of Snapjaw Humunculi. Devious little fiends who are able to administer sleeping-poison. (These likely won’t be a huge challenge for any party, really, unless the trap stunned a lot beforehand. The poison DC is a mere 13 which most PC’s should be able to muster at this time) But besides from some additional loot, the heroes found nothing in the attic.
It was in Vorgstag’s chambers things got interesting, though. Besides from an impressive collection of books and vials on the shelves, a door led them to another department in which a very solid cabinet rested against the wall. Upon opening it, they were shocked to find several grim coats of skin hanging in a row, some of them still dripping with blood. Mutt even recognized some of them as people who recently disappeared from the area. Of particular notice was a huge, grotesque skin of the biggest mongrelmen they had ever seen. It carried warts, seeping wounds and several deformities.
Through a thorough search, the heroes also uncovered an old ledger, mentioning several names the alchemist brothers had shady dealings with. Two of the recent ones were Dr. Brada of Sanctuary and a Mr. Vrood. The heroes decided to bring it all along. They needed to make haste, as the last call for the trial was only 1½ hour away.
Despite the fact that just about everyone in the party was dry on resources, they decided to take a closer look at the basement door. Besides from an old corridor there didn’t seem to be much of interest. However, they quickly made a gruesome discovery when they found a room with an old coffin and a corpse touched by the gentle repose-spell. Another ledger described how most of them were shipped to various names in the city of Caliphas. A small exit apparently lead into the sewers of Lepidstadt.
Quickly backtracking, the heroes discovered another grim room, its entire floor flooded. It was impossible to gauge how deep, however, as more than 30 corpses were floating around on the surface. The heroes were shocked, and decided to call in the authorities, sending Mutt to fetch a band of city guards.
The guards arrived on the scene shortly after, the sergeant obviously horrified with what he saw. He ordered three of his men to stay and guard the heroes, while he and a rookie searched the first floor and two others took the basement. Things went smooth till the heroes heard two loud screams from the lower corridor and then…silence.
Teeming with anxiety, the sergeant grabbed their arms.
“What in the hells was that?” he almost screamed. “What just happened to my men?”
“I’m not sure,” Edward said hesitantly “we thought there was nothing down there”
“It certainly seems so, doesn’t it? Get down there and find out! We’ll stay behind and cover your backs!”
Reluctantly the heroes climbed down into the fray once more and found two new traces of blood. They both led to the flooded room, in which they now saw the two dead guards float around on the top. Gently leaning forward, Mutt tried to fish them out with his halberd.
And that’s when the Zombie Ninjas made their move.
Two fists exploded through the surface of the water, planting a solid punch in Mutt’s crotch (yes, that’s how Stunning Fist works). The barbarian didn’t succumb to the effect, but when combat started in the following round, both undead monks emerged and unleashed a flurry of blows, beating him half to death.
Edgar immediately came to his rescue and casted one of his final healing spells, but it wasn’t enough, as Mutt was down to 3 HP in the following round. Grendel and Aldarion attempted various spells, but due to the monks’ high touch-AC and immunity to Magic Missile it quickly became evident that they had to rely on an old faithful strategy:

Sprinting through the corridors and on to the ladder, the heroes screamed at the sergeant to get the hell out of there with his men. Seeing the zombie ninjas made the poor commoner lose his senses as he howled like a stuck pig and ran into the streets followed by his men. The heroes could barely hear him shout “Monsters! Monsters! Summon the militia!”
The heroes managed to dismantle the ladder up before the zombies climbed it and not waiting to see their solution, they aborted the mission and followed the city guards.
Around 10 minutes later a heavy group of militia arrived at the scene, demanding some answers. Getting pretty much the same story as the Watch, they went in with the heroes, only to deduct that everyone had left the building. The zombie ninjas had escaped, and apparently had stolen some kind of alchemical vials from Vorgstag’s shelves, and in the turmoil, whatever creature had been linked in the courtyard had broken loose from its small house, and likely now roamed free.
Assuring the treat to the city had subsided, the militia left the heroes to gather their evidence, with slight word of warning not to cause any additional trouble.
(They aren’t exactly ninjas, but ‘variant human juju-zombie monks’. There is some decent fluff behind them, but other than that they can be a bit nasty if your party confronts them low on resources. And without magical weapons, which just makes matters much, much worse. In a sense they do seem oddly out of place, but as they’re actually sentient beings, I found it reasonable they’d find their freedom and get the hell out of there while they could. The zombies hate Vorkstag and Grine and for the same reason stopped their attacks and pursuit once they saw their bodies.
Do notice that these guys have DR 5/magic slashing, immunity to cold, lightning, magic missiles and boast a fire resistance of 10. Oh, and +4 channel resistance and evasion. They don’t go down easily.)
They're not ninjas. They're 'variant human juju zombie monks'. (Picture from 'The Gamers 2')
The First Trial – Morast
The heroes met up with Gustav Kaple not long after, who eagerly wanted to know what this morning’s ruckus was all about. With no time to explain, they quickly updated him on the situation and the defendant suddenly became eager. He wanted to know whether any of the heroes would take up the mantle as speaker on the Beast’s behalf once the trial began?

Giving this some consideration, the group decided to nominate Edgar the cleric for this. With some reluctance he agreed.
The courtroom was full as they entered. People from all over Lepidstadt had shown up and were already booing and shouting profane words at the huge beast sitting in its cage in the middle of the room. Present were the three high-judgeds of Lepidstadt, including their patron Embreth Daramid. The herald of the court presented them each in turn, including the Holy Sister of Justice whose entire purpose was to make sure no magic made its way into the room.
Entering from the other side of the room was Otto Heiger. A man in his best age, blond swirly hair and a smile that would launch an armada of ships. As he appeared, the booing immediately turned into cheering and celebration, people shouting his name over and over, till the judges called for order.
The Beast on trial
The procedure in Lepidstadt was in itself simple. At first the prosecutor would make his speech and interrogate whatever witnesses he wished. Then the defendant would do the same.
Then a short finishing round from the prosecutor in which he had the opportunity to address the remaining issues, and then the closing statement of the defending side.
(The adventure path provides you with a certain program you can follow, if you want to run the trial RP-heavy. If not, you can simply skip it right away. I tend to love just a little bit of drama and allowed my players to pledge their case before the court, and this method seems to be short as well as providing enough space for a good scene. Remember that usually only one person will make the stand, so people might easily get bored watching one guy having fun.)
 Otto Heiger didn’t need to make any deep statement, he was greeted as a true hero upon arrival. People were overwhelmed with joyful vengeance as he loudly and clearly called his witness, Elder Lazna of Morast. The Elder repeated his story about the Beast abducting 10 people in Morast just a year ago, and how they managed to set it up and chase it into the swamp, in which it was eaten by a Caiman. It was evident from there, Heiger said, that the beast was a murderer and should be put down for good.
Heiger also called in the young scout from Morast, who escorted the heroes to the restlands and saw them dig up the graves. Happily testifying against them, Heiger made sure to give the people of Lepidstadt an impression that the people defending the Beast could very well be just a gruesome and beastly in nature.
Edgar got up and sternly presented the judges with the fact that even though the claims were true; they had disturbed the open graves, they did nothing that had not already been done. Being heroes of action and not mere words, they’d been through several challenges and conflicts to find the evidence needed to clear out the Beast’s name. There was no doubt that the creature was innocent in this matter, due to the following:
- The graves had obviously been tampered with in Morast, which linked the corpse-merchants to the scene.
- The surgical tools at the scene used to belong to Vorkstag, meaning the skin-stealer had more than likely been at the scene.
- Vorkstag also had obvious Craiman-bites on his shoulder.
- Vorkstag’s disguise obviously resembled the one described by Elder Lazne. The old man even seemed to recognize it in court.
- Vorkstag collected skins and dealt in shady body-snatching business. This entire thing was a setup!
- Even further, the removed face of the poacher Nan Klebem was found at the scene in Morast, hinting further to his presence there.
Once done, Heiger pointed out the cunning stunt of this. While the alchemist could indeed have been guilty in such notorious business, the heroes couldn’t manage to provide even a single witness to back up their claim. Sure, the strings could fit, but in Heiger’s optic this could just as well be speculation and coincidence. The citizens of Lepidstadt would do well to remember their common sense.
Edgar finished the trial by pointing out that they had concrete results and not just mere words and talk from people, and hoped that the judges would see reason.
There was silence in the room for quite some time, before someone in the back broke it by starting to hurl rotten vegetables at the Beast. The big creature immediately curled up in his cage and was escorted out. Edgar, quickly placing himself between the Beast and the mob, didn’t get to say much before the hammer of Chief-Judge Ambrose Khard thundered through the room. The case was closed for today. Tomorrow the trial of the lost children of Hergstag would commence.
Gustav ran to the heroes, arms flailing and excitement shining from his eyes. This was amazing! He’d never seen anything like it. The heroes had managed to mute the angry crowd of Lepidstadt. He would congratulate them even further, but they had to be quick now. In less than 24 hours, the trial of Hergstag would begin, and the Beast was accused for slaying six children there, just seven months ago. Gustav recommended the heroes to either go directly to Hergstag tonight, or visit the three crown witnesses, the sisters Garrow, Starle and Flicht, who owned an old windmill outside of town.
The heroes decided to take a rest first, and set out with the darkness that night.
It was 21 before they got up, and rode out of Lepidstadt.
(Mechanic-wise the trial isn’t that hard to keep track of.  In a nutshell, the heroes have to make continual Diplomacy checks whenever they wish to present a piece of evidence. Should they succeed in enough, determined by their actions in the area, the trial will go in their favor. Getting powerful evidence usually provides a solid bonus to the roll.
I made their rolls in secrecy, as I find this adds a lot more excitement to the process.
My players did well on the first case. They found some of the really solid evidence and had some good rolls. The real question is whether they can keep it up the following days. Besides from not raising the issue in court, that there was an empty potion of darkvision at the Morast Camp, I’m pretty sure they got around them all. This also nets the party a healthy sum of XP.)
Heading for Hergstag
The heroes started by visiting Garrow, Starle and Flicht. The three sisters, correctly, owned a small windmill outside town and were surprised to see them, but nonetheless invited them in. Starle, the oldest sister, told them that seven months ago, children started disappearing from the town and nobody knew why. As the fear and horror grew among the citizens, it quickly turned into pure anger the day the Beast marched into town, carrying the dead child Ellsa in his arms. And he was laughing.
The villagers turned upon him, he dropped the corpse and fled. Once the sixth child died, the entire town decided to abandon the area for good.
Aldarion attempted to explain that while the Beast could appear to be laughing he was in fact crying, but this evoked very hostile feelings in Starle, who demanded to know whether he called her a liar?
Diplomatically asking for more information, Edgar attempted to plant doubt or analysis in the mind of the sister, as he had a strong feeling that she was keeping something from them. Eventually he addressed the more silent sister, Garrow, directly, and firmly told her to tell what she knew.
Almost breaking down, she burst halfway into tears.
“You shouldn’t go there!” she cried “that place is now land of evil. The spirits haunt it!”
“Be silent,  Garrow! That’s nothing but fancy tales, we all know the Beast did it!” Starle snapped.
“Maybe. Or maybe not. Did you not find it odd that little Karin died two days after we drove away the Beast? In her bed, even. With no signs of breaking in!”
“The Beast is a demonic force not to be reckoned with, Sister! Who knows what kind of infernal powers he possesses?”
“You say you saw spirits?” Aldarion asked. “What kind of spirits?”
“The spirits of the dead children. They began walking the town at night. We all saw them, but only a few of us dared speak about it. You know this as well as I do,  Starle!”
Starle eyed them all solemnly before lowly uttering “I think you should all leave now…”
It was only a wee bit over midnight when the heroes arrived at the desolace town of Hergstag. Beyond the cold night wind that swept through the tall grass, there was no sound or movement to register. Approaching from the south, they followed the river north, till they reached an old temple of Chauntea. It had been forsaken for quite some time and nothing of value remained. From what the heroes could see, an old overgrown trail led further north into the town-ruins. Following it, it became clear that nobody had trespassed on these lands for months. The Ustalavanian rain and harsh weather had brought hard times upon them, and without the repairs and attendance from the former inhabitants the town quickly degenerated into an overgrown rubble. Not all was lost, however, and in its midst stood six significantly preserved buildings, peaking towards the starry sky like giants in the gloom.
Approaching the first building, the heroes carefully took a look inside the dark hole of a half collapsed wall. Grendel suddenly noticed a grey shape of a child. It stared at him and beckoned him to follow. He noticed it pointing at an old pile of bricks laying nearby.
Full of halfling trust, he immediately approached it, and before his comrades could stop him, a bear-trap closed itself around him with a loud snap. In the next second, the eerie child-shade set upon them with a howl.
Its ghostly form nimbly scaled the difficult terrain below them, as it struck Mutt with a chilly touch, draining life from his very soul. Negative energy cackled through him, and the warmth of life slowly began fading. Caught in the trap, Grendel was unable to move but managed to hurl a barrage of magic missiles towards the wraithling. Soon afterwards, it was destroyed, uttering a sharp whisper: “…He will get to you…”
Consulting their knowledge of the subject, Aldarion realized that these children were indeed wraith-spawns, likely created by a nearby master wraith. And destroying it would likely grace them all with a will of their own. They agreed to push on to the next house, in which they encountered a similar child, this time the one of Ellsa herself. Again they felt the cold touch of death upon them, and she whispered about the master being here, waiting.
At the third house their resources were pretty thin, but they nonetheless managed to destroy a third wraithling, a boy, who uttered “…on the hill…” as he slowly faded into nothingness. Determined to find the master behind it all, the heroes went to the top of the nearby hill, at which they found an old forsaken Scarecrow. A faint growling was barely audible. It sounded like an old man sneering “…leave…now!”.
At this point, Mutt drew an Alchemist Fire and mumbled “I’ve had it with these Wraiths…” before he lobbed it unto the scarecrow. Catching flames, a dark shape immediately flew into existence with a howl of anger. The wraith manifestation of now deceased Brother Swarm rose up to meet his foes.
It was a fierce battle, in which the heroes met the challenge by distributing the constitution drains as best as possible. Mutt managed to bolster his weapon through oils and alchemical ingredients, so he was able to inflict some wounds on the wraith. Eventually, Brother Swarm ceased to be and faded into nothingness with a final shriek. Upon searching his remains and the nearby hill, the heroes found what looked like an old hole down.
What horrors awaited them down there had to wait till next Wednesday.
(So yeah, I fucked up. I really did. Gaming after a long workday has some serious pitfalls, such as reading monster entries way wrong. In this case I basically gave the wraiths energy drain against a level 5 party. Which is quite frankly a bit over the top. Luckily, it never had any significant impact on the final fight, as nobody died and they pulled through quite well. So yeah, joke was on me, and I deserved the dummy hat this time around. Well done! Apart from that, there is still much investigation work to be done in Hergstag, albeit far from as much as the previous case. The heroes can confront all of the wraithlings, but it will tax their resources.
All in all, I really like the element of urgency in this adventure path. It’s been received with mixed feelings from my players so far, but the fact that they are on such a tight schedule really forces them to prioritize their time and resources in combat. With eight hours of rest plus time spent preparing spells, there isn’t much room for ‘resting it out’ between encounters. All in all, very well done. Stay tuned for next week, in which we’ll see what the heroes find in Hergstag, and the second chapter in the trial against the Beast).

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