Friday, February 3, 2012

Carrion Crown: Trial of the Beast pt. 4

Having a bone to pick
The heroes took a moment to recuperate from the fight with Father Swarm, before investigating the old fox hole more closely. From the outside it looked quite ordinary, but they had a certain feeling of unrest as they approached it. It was almost a bit too dark down there.
Not being known for cowardice, Grendell hastily squeezed his way through and shortly after ended up in a small ‘chamber’ of sorts. The dull illumination revealed the long decomposed corpses of four children, now nothing more than bones and tattered cloth. Slowly, the heroes managed to haul the remains up from there, more or less intact. Evidently they had not been killed by anything leaving significant marks or internal bruises.
Mutt suddenly heard someone approach. When they looked down, a cloaked person was making his way up the hill, making no gesture of any kind. Immediately the barbarian hurled himself at him, tackled him, and ripped off his hood. It was Vincent. (Our fifth player finally returned from holiday, I didn’t want to waste any time letting him reappear in any epic fashion. So, yeah.) Hastily explaining his absence by ‘various duties’ he said he’d followed their tracks out here, and wanted to know about the current situation. There wasn’t much to tell, really, except for the fact that the children had likely been killed by the wraith and that some of them likely haunted the village now.
The heroes set out to the final three houses, the first one in remarkably good shape. Knocking on the door they heard the tormented, angry whispers of a spectral female inside, and reckoned the wraith was still in there. Charging through the door, Mutt wielded his ghost-touch buffed halberd and immediately fell into a bear-trap placed by the villagers long ago. The wraith immediately attacked and sucked the life out of him, with a nasty 6 constitution drain. Vincent screamed and made himself invisible while running away, but the wraith now noticed a lone victim with its life sense. It quickly emerged from the wall and embraced the sorcerer for 4 constitution points.
Edgar cast a searing light spell and managed to annihilate the apparition in a final stroke and after burning a wand of lesser restoration, the heroes entered the house and began searching it. (A thing I really botched in Hergstag is the fact that whenever the heroes move they have a 20% chance of accidentally stepping in a bear trap, which can indeed have serious consequences in fights against incorporeals. If you’re going to run this as a GM, I’d like to point out the importance of remembering it better than me, at least : P )
It had been abandoned for some time, but upstairs they found an old and very intact child’s room with the name “Karin’s room” scribbled outside. The bed was done and everything sorted out neatly.
“This is where the sixth child died,” Aldarion mumbled “in her sleep. Looks like they’ve kept the room quite tight ever since”.
“If they’re blaming the Beast for this they should think again!” Grendell eagerly replied and pointed at the window. “Look, no signs of force. And the wall outside is perfectly smooth and unclimbable.”
Searching the room the heroes didn’t find much else of interest and moved on to the two remaining houses (I decided to let the remaining two wraithlings leave). They were abandoned now, and instead they headed for the abandoned temple to do what they did best so far. Grave robbing. They were becoming really good at it.
So good they later made a really shitty musical about it.
Deciding to verify the current situation of things, they dug up all the six child-graves and confirmed that both Ellsa and Karin were indeed in their rightful place. Reuniting Karin with her toy doll, they buried them once more and decided to question one of the remaining skeletons through Speak with Dead.
The child immediately became animated as blue sparks enshrouded it. It felt as if it was looking at them, awaiting their two questions.
“Can you tell us what happened to you?” Edgar asked.
“Yes” it answered.
(I’m such a douche towards people using this spell. Not because I’m antagonistic against it, but magic should require careful consideration.)One question remained.
“Who killed you?” the cleric asked.
“The shadowy man!” the corpse hissed before collapsing once more.
This was about as much clue as they needed, and the heroes decided to head back to Lepidstadt and get on with the second trial.
Court is in session – Day two
The trial opened as usual on the second day. Proceedings went by, people were introduced, and Otto Heiger received a standing applause as he entered the room. The defendants were boo’ed and spat at. The high-judge called for order and allowed Heiger to begin the trial.
“Citizens of Lepidstadt, honored members of the court,” he began “I present to you a case so obvious today, that it appears almost folly to invest any further amount of time defending this monstrosity. We have not only one, but three witnesses, who all saw the monster appear with the poor slain girl Ellsa in his arms. And what monstrosity is he; laughing all the way. Mocking the people who loved her, mocking our most sacred tradition of justice?”
The three sister Garrow, Starle and Flicht were called to witness and elaborate about the events. Starle, the oldest sister, immediately took the word and provided the court with the same story she’d told the heroes. There was no doubt in her book, the Beast was guilty and deserved to burn. This was met with a murmur of raging empathy from the audience.
Vincent took the stand and addressed the citizens and the judges, claiming that a dire false accusation had been made this day. For even though the Beast had indeed been seen and appeared on the scene, it had not committed any kind of crime.
Starting from the top, Vincent explained how the wraith, Father Swarm, had instead entered the town and slain the children, turning them into wraithlings. From thereon, the wraiths had lured other children to them and sucked out their life before they could get away. Proving this, he presented the amount of ectoplasm they’d found from the wraith and the four corpses of the children. This was met with a loud, surprising gasp from the audience.
Vincent called in Dr. Cowl from the Lepidstadt University to testify and explain a bit about flesh golems. Cowl informed the judges that flesh golems certainly weren’t able to produce any kind of tears due to their origin, and therefore crying could easily be mistaken for laughing. Also, looking at its construction, it was quite obvious that the Beast would always look like grinning, even if it tried not to.
Cowl also identified the ectoplasm as of likely undead origin.
Vincent also called in the three sisters, but specifically asked for Garrow, who’d originally spilled her guts when they met earlier. With a deep and emotional contact, he managed to break her very quickly (Natural 20 diplomacy) and she spilled all the details about the ghosts she’d seen in town, and how Karin had actually died after the beast had run off. In her bed, even.
Finally, Vincent had arranged beforehand the casting of Speak with Dead in court. Magic was usually not allowed in trials, but at special occasions permissions were granted, and Gustav had luck with the red tape of obtaining the permission.
As one of the dead children came to live, an immense wave of anger and outrage went through the crowd. “Blasphemy!” they heard angry voices whisper. “Heathens!”
“Tell me, child” Vincent said “who killed you?”
“The shadowy man!”
“Did this Beast kill you?”
A loud murmur fell upon the crowd and the high-judge had to call for order.
Vincent closed his case.
The aftermath was simple. Heiger applauded the heroes for their wonderful story telling, but emphasized how much was really left to guessing. Where did they get these corpses? How could they prove they were truly from Hergstag? They brought in some slime, and so what? Yes, the professor said the beast could cry without tears, but did that really mean it didn’t? It was, all in all, an interesting coincidence that these adventurers showed up just as the trial of the Beast began, and starting digging up graves and performing sacrileges on dead children. Hardly, could we trust the words of someone so amoral?
Vincent made a diplomatic case and urged the judges and citizens to see reason and understand that these murders had certainly not been committed by the Beast. Good stories or not, there was an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing at this and the evil that had once haunted Hergstag was now gone.
The case then came to a halt, and everyone left the hall. Gustav was ecstatic about Vincent’s performance, never seen anything like that in his entire life! (7 diplomacy successes, having a sorcerer with +14 to diplomacy helps quite much). Now they had to move on to the next case, the arson at ‘Sanctuary’ in which the Beast had also been spotted. He recommended that the heroes spoke to the late doctor’s assistant Karl, who lived in a cottage down by the river.
However, Mutt and Grendell noticed several of the townspersons staring at them gloomily. There was anger in those gazes. Pure, burning hate and frustration. By dragging the dead children into this and utilizing necromantic magic, they’d crossed a very dangerous line. As people left the room, several of them were muttering ‘…tonight…yes, tonight…’
Sharing this with Gustav, he immediately became worried. Mob justice wasn’t an entirely unknown concept in Ustalav, after all. Even though the heroes needed sleep, he urged to stay nearby, at least just for a part of the night. Till they could be sure nobody would make a move. To be prepared, he would also station sergeant Yesslev the dwarf and a handful of his trusty men.
The heroes decided that the most rational thing to do, was to drag some carpets down into the dungeon and sleep at the Beast’s side.
Prison Break!
They went to sleep at 13:00 PM and woke up at 21 when the sound of rustling feet echoed from the stairs. A guard, strikingly pale, stumbled into the room and gasped “you’d better come with me. I think we’re in trouble!”
Heading up the stairs, approaching the balcony on the first floor, the heroes could hear the muffled sound of screaming and combat outside. Through the darkness of night, a dim illumination from a carpet of torches bathed their faces in a golden hue. At the plaza outside, about 80 townspeople had gathered with torches, clubs and pitchforks, violently ravaging buildings, stalls and whatever came in their way. Six tough looking leaders, all carrying crossbows, made sure to fuel their rage with occasional encouragements.
They were chanting “Give us the Beast!”
Edgar looked down at the dwarf and then the guards. “We’ve got to do something,” he said “station people at various entrances and—“
“Delay that order,” sergeant Yesslev said “I think we’re quite safe up here.”
“We stay put and the mob gets what they want. Everybody is happy that way. In fact, why don’t the three of you go down and…secure…the main gate?” the dwarf calmly ordered. He stared coldly at the mob and made a gesture, sending three men towards the main entrance.
Edgar stuck out his head of the window and began shouting at the crowd, but a few seconds later a crossbow bolt pierced his throat, sending him to the floor (You go, confirmed critical!). Mutt sneered and with barbaric rage he leant out to unleash him booming voice. A few seconds later, a crossbow bolt pierced his throat, sending him to the floor too (You GO, confirmed critical!). With a roar he got up and fired a bolt towards a ringleader, hoping to incapacitate him by hitting his leg. The bolt sliced directly through and the ringleader howled in pain, pushing the mob the very last step. Like booming thunder they charged upon the building, raising ladders and carrying portable rams towards both entrances.
Grendell screamed “NO!” and attempted to sunder the barbarian’s crossbow. “Don’t harm them! We don’t need to do this!”
The acid arrow smelted part of the weapon away, and grumpily Mutt smashed it into the wall, turning it into an improvised club. Vincent looked at the three guards heading for the main gate and nodded at Mutt to follow. Aldarion quickly ran to the window and conjured up a rolling ball of water (Conjuration spell from Advanced Player’s Guide). It immediately crushed the group of rioters and knocked them unconscious, and by moving it back and forth, he was able to take out the rest of the group and pick up the rest of them inside the water. (Wise move, as the water ball deals non-lethal damage)
Grendell cast Ghost Sound and projected his loud voice unto the plaza.
Due to a low intimidate check, nobody really cared. The ringleaders pointed out that THIS was the foul voice of the Beast, attempting to save itself! Push forward!
Desperately, Grendell looked back to ask Edgar for help. But the cleric was gone.
Outside he could hear the thundering smashes of portable rams against the doors. There was no doubt; even though they’d stopped one chokepoint, the remaining two were falling. The mob would get their victim, if nobody intervened.
Down in the lobby, the three guards had started releasing the bar and unlocking the several locks. They suddenly noticed Vincent and Mutt approaching.
“Sir, don’t make this any harder,” one of them said, nervously “this IS for the best! No one will know what happened. We can finish it now! Everyone will be happy!”
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that!” Vincent said and immediately hurled a color spray at the guards, sending them to the floor, shaking catatonically. Outside they could again hear Grendell’s voice.
The effect was just about the same this time and the second after the crowd smashed up the main door, sending splinters flying all over. Mutt growled and pointed the blunt end of the halberd towards them while yelling “That’s far enough!”
They stopped for a moment.
“Monster sympathizer… stand aside and you will remain unharmed. The building and the Beast are ours now. We will… wait—what’s that sound?”
The faint rumbling grew bigger and everyone looked around uneasily, before another rolling ball of water collapsed on the crowd, knocking them out cold. A tiny “Wuhu!” could be heard from Aldarion in the distance.
In the far end of the square another group entered the fray. It was the militia, sternly marching towards the building and took up arms against crowd, ensuring battle now dominated the entire area with shouts and yells heavily hanging in the air.
Their faint echoes crawled through the dungeon walls, as Edgar quickly made his way across the damp stone, heading towards the large cage in the middle of the room.
“Beast,” he said. “We’re getting out of here!”
The abomination looked up at him. “Out?....”
“Yes, out. You and me. Now! Can you break these bars?”
“No. Lock is too strong” he mumbled.
The cleric sternly marched to his side and cast a Bull’s Strength on the Beast closely followed up by an array of acidic arrows at the master lock. The Beast hesitantly eyed him for a moment and then groaned as it began violently shaking the bars. About a minute later, the final lock snapped and with a thunderous roar that quaked through the entire complex, the Beast of Lepidstadt was free. It immediately headed up the stairs, mumbling “Father….Father…I’m coming, Father!” repeatedly. Edgar did his best to keep up and tracked it all the way up to the balcony, in which sergeant Yesslev stood. Horror befell the face of the dwarf, as he made a gesture to act, but immediately was knocked out cold as the Beast charged through him and the following wall. The explosion sent bricks raining all over the plaza, for a moment paralyzing militia and rioters alike, as they looked at the towering golem now making its way towards the city wall.
“Get it!” they started screaming, and threw themselves at the poor creature. Nets were immediately tossed over its backs, trip attacks were made and in the end, the Beast did what it did best.
It went berserk.

Attempting to smash its way out, wave upon wave of militia and peasants were slain by fists the size of crates. The splattering sounds and cries of pain instantly replaced the ferocity of combat, as torn apart bodies began occupying the cobblestones. As the heroes made their way towards the plaza, they realized how terrible a weapon of destruction the Beast truly was. It was an unstoppable force, that much was clear, and the only way to stop it was to hold it down for good, which the militia had realized. The second net had been thrown at it and they now fiercely tried to tie it to the ground.
This was where the group split up into ideologies. Mutt, never been much for ethical dilemmas, lit a smoke and watched. Grendell was still keen on stopping the blood bath but realized it was likely a bit too late for that. Aldarion attempted to summon a pit below the Beast, but it was saved by its reflexes and instead some militia fell screaming into the hole. Finally, Vincent turned himself invisible and ran to the Beast, turning it invisible as well. In a shocked moment everyone was stunned by surprise, which was enough distraction for Edgar to fire an acidic arrow towards the one restricting net, unleashing the Beast.
Plenty of people laid slaughtered. But the heroes didn't take that all too heavily.
Empathy. My players got it.
In panic, the invisible mastodon headed for the nearest part of the small city wall (according to the map, Lepidstadt doesn’t have a clear city wall, but I’ve added in a simple one, easily broken by something at the Beast’s size).  As it smashed through it, Edgar and Vincent immediately found nearby horses and went after it through the cloud of dust rising into the night.
As they felt the cold air of the Ustalavanian night against their faces, they sent each other a wide smile of victory and continued north along the river, never losing sight of the sprinting golem in front of them.
The Beast of Lepidstadt had officially escaped.
After about 10 minutes the Beast stopped along the river (technically it doesn’t need to, but it makes for great narration none the less). It stared at its followers but calmed down once it recognized Edgar.
“You…you saved me…?” it said in its usual brutish voice.
“That’s what friends do,” the cleric said. “You’re free now.”
“But they will likely hunt you down. You need to get far away from here…and likely, as do we” Vincent added. The Beast put a huge hand on their shoulders, easily able to crush them if it wanted to.
“Friends!” it said. “Come see father! Come see Caromarc!”
“Caromarc is your father?”
“Father needs help! Bad men came to father!”
“Bad men” Edgar pondered. “Did they wear cloaks? And speak in a whisper?”
The Beast nodded acknowledging.
“Then we have no time to lose. We must gather our party and venture forth! Beast, can we meet you later?”
“Meet me at fathers place! You will like it. Farewell…my friends!”
The Beast hastily headed out into the swamp and left the two alone once more. Discretely they decided to head back to town, and could soon hear the sound of ringing bells, cries and despair from its walls.
Lepidstadt was in turmoil. Armed forces were split between attending the innumerous amount of dead people and preparing an expedition to hunt down the Beast. Aldarion, Mutt and Grendell observed the rows of corpses covered in white sheets, silently contemplating. As Vincent and Edgar returned, they decided to silently slip out of town and establish a late night meeting at an abandoned road.
“Caromarc?” Mutt said once he’d heard about the daring escape.  “I’ve heard of that name. He’s some kind of count. Or, he used to. Before the country fell into democracy. He has an old castle to the north-east, apparently some kind of loner. He’s known to experiment with the fantastic and the exotic, especially creatures. From what I’ve heard, that’s also the reason why he has fortified himself in there with plenty of traps. Built the entire thing on the top of a waterfall. Kind of an old loonie, if you ask me.”
“Be that as it may,” Edgar said “if The Whispering Way made its way in there, the count is surely in trouble. I suggest we head to Castle Caromarc immediately!”
The journey took a couple of days due to the slow pace, but early in the morning the heroes arrived at a spectacular sight. Towering up above them was a huge construction that vaguely could be called a castle above an enormous waterfall. Connecting various cliffs were several bridges, some of stone some of old wood, and the structures were of variable sizes. It looked exotic as well as intimidating, and not a sound could be heard above the roaring waterfall below.
But before the heroes could advance any further, they were jumped by two troll hounds and charged by two trolls exiting from the gate house, leading into the very complex. It wasn’t a thoroughly complicated fight, and Aldarion managed to capture a troll in a conjured pit, while the party burned them down one at a time.
Looking up from the carnage, they looked at Castle Caromarc, wondering what terrors lied in wait in there…
Yes. Some will agree with me here. Some will disagree with me. It really begs the question; how much to improvise, how much to let your players get away with?
In this case, TotB doesn’t really add any options for the players to spring the Beast from prison. I can understand why. After all, if the first thing the players do is to release it and run away they’ll not only miss a significant amount of loot and experience, but they will skip MASSIVE parts of the adventure. In this case, they’d already accomplished the first two trials and at the time, they had accumulated 13 successful Diplomacy checks. Enough to deem the Beast innocent.
So I decided to allow it. After all, player initiative is not always bad, and this was really an interesting turn of events I didn’t see coming. Also, the third case of the arson at Sanctuary is beyond doubt the most dull and uninteresting of them all, likely only placed there for players who didn’t manage to track the chemical brothers when they were in Morast.
They DID miss some solid XP’s from the last case, but there’s a price to everything. Also, it’s showing the party consists of five people now. A barbarian, a cleric, a rogue/sorcerer, a sorcerer and a wizard. There is a lot of firepower in there, so the relative slower advancement is to be expected. And frankly, I don’t think it will become a big issue.
I look very much forward to see what Castle Caromarc will bring them. Stay tuned for next Wednesday!)

1 comment:

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