Saturday, February 18, 2012

Carrion Crown: Trial of the Beast pt. 6

Despite the fatal defeat and sacrifices made last week, the heroes were eager to begin this time around and we managed to start an early session.
Making their way back outside the guard house, they happily realized that Aldarion had recovered from his almost-fatal-wounds and was ready to push on. When asked about Grendell the three heroes stood in solemn silence before breaking the bad news. Grendell the Halfling was not coming back.
So in deep sorrow, they all set back into Castle Caromarc. It was 2:00 PM, so the sun still illuminated the tall, majestic buildings rising above the roaring waterfalls below. An eerie silence dwelled in the long corridors, only interrupted by the echoing steps from carefully moving boots. Without Grendell, the heroes were well aware that any upcoming traps posed a significant danger.
Moving on to the third door upstairs, besides the personal chamber of the Count, they had a strange encounter. A sturdy dwarf, gagged and tied to an overturned bed, was angrily stomping his foot into the floor. Once released, he presented himself as Galfûr, travelling merchant and courier from Cormyr. Apparently, he was sent on a mission to Castle Caromarc with a valuable crate for the Count only, but alas he was ambushed and robbed by the Cult of the Whispering Way, shortly upon arrival. Luckily, he managed to hide some of his most vital equipment and through some scavenging; he accumulated additional possessions from the castle. Galfûr expressed his desire to join arms with the heroes and search for his lost package and get revenge on the necromancers who jumped him. He proudly identified himself as a most noble member and inquisitor of the Church of Waukeen, ready to aid them in their quest.
(There may be some loose ends in this whole explanation, but then again I really hate letting players sit back and wait too long before they’re back into the game. It might make sense that he originally fled, attempted to hide some of his possessions, but was then knocked unconscious, since the cult didn’t perceive him as any significant threat.)
With their new comrade in arms, the party moved on and searched the small rooms below. They mainly consisted of recreational themes, such as a smoking room and a billiard room, some containing minor treasures they decided to take along. In the dining room they found some masterwork halberds along with a secret door to the north. Beyond it they found another bridge, leading to the second complex. Mutt, not wanting to take many chances, gently moved to the other side and opened the door.
The only thing left was rubble from what had likely been an alchemist-lab once. Now, a severe explosion had blasted everything into pieces, including large parts of the wall, and in the floor several gaping holes were easily spotted. Whereas it would likely hold the weight, any significant strain or exposure to fire, had the potential to send anyone falling for 200 feet towards the roaring waterfalls below.
Bringing some rope along, the barbarian immediately decided to tie it on to an old part of the western wall, so his friends on the other side of the bridge had something to hang on to, in case they should fall.
Alas, he didn’t notice the chirping sound behind him until it was too late.
Immediately, two antennas stroke his breastplate, turning it instantly into a pile of fine rust swept away by the wind. Mutt quickly turned around and saw two happy rust monsters behind him. He tried screaming for help, but the wind, faint roars from the waterfalls and the distance made it impossible for his comrades in arms to notice anything unusual. Instead he drew arms.
Rust Monster
With swift initiative, the monsters managed to degrade Mutt’s favorite halberd ‘Betty’ to broken-condition. The barbarian once again howled for help and inflicted a severe wound on one of the beasts. This time, Galfûr noticed and immediately led the party across the bridge. Aldarion moved things along with a haste, and on the following round the battlefield was set.
Vincent the Sorcerer opened the ball with fire, which doesn’t necessarily click well with old, fragile floors made out of wood. In fact, out of the 10% chance of a mishap, it chose to happen at this exact time, meaning the very foundation beneath the hero collapsed and sent them all screaming through the air. Mutt, Edgar and Galfûr managed to grab on to parts of the remaining debris, while Vincent and Aldarion saved themselves with feather fall and managed to avoid drowning in the rivers below.
(There are a couple of ways to read this rule in the adventure. One way says that only part of the floor is blown away, whereas another way says that the entire thing collapses. I went with the second one, because it seems more logical and dangerous)
Making their way back up while drying their robes, the arcane casters rejoined with the party and quickly moved on to the next bridge leading west to the third complex. This one was really unstable, taken directly out of Temple of Doom. Mutt and Edgar quickly noticed that moving along it would take a certain amount of acrobatic skill. Again they decided to send Mutt in first.
The barbarian made good progress, till he reached the 30 foot marker. Then he sprung a trap, and out of the blue a red, fiendish portal opened in the sky above them, sending a howling Erinye. “You will never reach the cult!” she screamed, and unleashed a hail of fiery arrows on Mutt. The barbarian managed to make it back into safety in the old laboratory, and the devil hurled a magic rope at Vincent meanwhile. Then a very long firefight broke loose, with the heroes taking fortification behind the broken walls of the laboratory, exchanging snapshots with her.
Erinye
Vincent and Aldarion both attempted to make good use of their Magic Missiles but were either blocked by the ensnaring rope or failed to overcome her spell resistance. Blessing Mutt’s crossbow, Edgar quickly moved on to heal those wounded by the Erinye’s shots, which included Galfûr. The dwarf evoked the power of bane on his bow and got in some good shots, which did some pain to the devil. Sneering, she returned the favor and downed the inquisitor in two rounds.
Edgar immediately brought him back to his feet, allowing the dwarf to get up and take another shot at the opponent, before she dropped him once more. “I can keep this up as long as you can, cleric!” she hissed and flew into a better position. Insisting on being brought back, Galfûr stood up, fired an arrow, missed his target, and was resolutely hit by a critical strike as well as an ordinary flame arrow. With a moan, he dropped dead.
Mutt, having popped in an out of the laboratory the entire fight, finally scored a solid hit and Vincent got through with an empowered magic missile in the end sending the Erinye to its death after nine rounds of solid combat.
Pressing on for a while, the heroes opened the door to the third complex, in which they found an unusual lobby. Tons of old glasses, scriptures, texts, jars, vials and aquariums were placed on the various shelves, many containing exotic and disturbing parts of various creatures. It reminded them of a museum, most of all. With three doors leading out from there, they decided to catch their breath and search the room. Much to their joy, they discovered a long forsaken scroll of raise dead.
(There are two ways to handle this magical trap, depending on whether you’re collecting Light- or Dark Side points. As written, there are more than one Erinye, which is a beastly setup for a sixth level party. As far as I’ve come to understand on the Paizo-forum, the intention is to teach the players that running away is sometimes necessary. Needless to say, I did make sure my players understood that this was a summon monster trap, and at one time in the trenches they even discussed whether to run away, which they quickly dismissed since the Erinye could easily catch up with them and perhaps even knock them off the bridge once more. And I suppose it can. Same rationale goes for the huge air elemental mentioned in former post. In this case the party would likely have suffered severe casualties. Also, there is no scroll of raise dead in the original Castle Caromarc. I felt sorry for the player, as he managed to play his new character for less than an hour before being sent back into the grave. Had it been any of the other players, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.
Besides, two negative levels for the rest of the dungeon seemed like punishment enough. After all, being healed to just about 10 hp and standing up in front of a CR 8 archer with three attacks is bloody well stupid and deserves to be punished. I can be merciless and don’t have issues slamming my players, but I want them to feel they could’ve done better/wiser in order to avoid it.
On the light side, the party should be able to handle a single one of these babes. Granted, it isn’t easy. They easily manage to stay out of reach and they hit like a truck. One good way to use them, is to remind your evocation focused spell casters that they need to think in bigger perspectives than spells that allow spell resistance. But on the other hand, Castle Caromarc is one huge reminder of that…)
It belongs in a museum!
Having raised Galfûr from the dead, the heroes inspected the foyer more closely, before heading south from where they heard a strange brushing sound. It revealed the ‘sea’ area of the museum, with plenty of aquatic creature in vials and glasses. Tapeworms, octopi, strange mutated fish and much more dominated the majority of them, and in a vain attempt to spice up the atmosphere, someone had scattered sand all over the floor and cast a permanent ghost sound spell of waves trashing up on the beach (personal detail I decided to add, it seemed so fitting! If you actually have a recording of waves at the beach, it works wonders in here). Searching through the room, they quickly found a hidden door in the northwest, revealing a staircase leading up. They decided to explore the current floor first.
In the second room they found the theme of ‘earth’ and the old bones of a Bulette. Nothing else besides more stuffed animals and various parts were found here. To the north they revealed a big chamber, in which to sarcophagi rested, to the west and east respectively. An old stair led down in the corner, and an iron door in the northern wall seemed to lead outside of the complex.
This time, not featuring Scorpion Kings
Browsing through the room, the heroes decided to unearth the western sarcophagus, but as they had the lid partly moved, Aldarion’s detect undead gave strong readings, and they immediately moved into combat position. With a fierce smash, the mummy made its way out, groaning. Immediately the heroes attacked, sadly without their arcane casters who both trembled in paralyzed panic by the mummy’s aura. This meant that the undead monstrosity had a turn to inflict Galfûr with mummy rot (yeah, really not his night…) before succumbing. It didn’t end here, though, as everyone failed to notice the second sarcophagus that had now sneaked up on them, revealing itself as a DIABOLICAL MIMIC! Grinningly, it caught Vincent in its grasp and began constricting the poor sorcerer. The rest of the group immediately came to his rescue, hammering the aberration with brute force. Barely avoiding getting his halberd stuck to it adhesive surface, Mutt slew the beast after a couple of turns, saving Vincent who was five hit points away from death at the time.

(I like this encounter. It’s a good breather for the heroes after some very nasty challenges.)
As they headed down into the basement, it wasn’t long until they were greeted by the loud sounds of movement further on, followed by tiny squabbling voices. Pondering upon their origin, they slowly recoiled as the blind guardian approached them. A beastly golem led on by a solid handful of homunculi.
But despite the creatures’ fearsome appearance, the heroes made surprisingly short work of it by slaying the accompanying homunculi and then focusing their attention on the big guy. (It was a surprisingly short combat indeed, but somehow I think they deserved it : P )
 With the basement revealing nothing of interest, the heroes made their way upstairs to the attic. It looked abandoned for quite some time and contained nothing of interest except for three black crates tightly locked up, along with a major box in the corner. Carefully picking up one of the black boxes, the heroes attempted the open it, resulting in an explosion of spores all over, attempting to choke their way down their throats. Everyone managed to shake them off before any harm was done… except Galfûr (of course) who suffered from moderate constitution damage.
Quickly leaving the room to Mutt, the party let the barbarian deal with the two remaining boxes. In the first an explosion of yellow mold forced him to run out of the room screaming and the second involved the head of a hag which was luckily saved against. The heroes decided to call it and instead investigate the tiny trapdoor in the attic, which resulted in another trap, as an acid fog consumed the entire area. Yelling in pain, the entire party made its way down the stairs, violently coughing and bleeding.
(One thing has to be said here. At this point my party was royally pissed. There was hate in the air and it was so thick you could slice it. They literally wanted to tear this entire place a new one and didn’t care one bit for any further amount of exploration. The only thing on their mind was to get to Caromarc ASAP and shit down his neck.
In a weird sense, this really reminds me of that one scene in Home Alone at which both burglars are laying in the foyer, coated in tar, wounded, burned and with teeth missing. And the way they look at each other with the “THAT’S IT!!!” look…
I’ll admit, at this time I was willing to put money on them killing the count before he even got to speak. Their rage was surely up for it.)
It is time for more… experiments.
As they assumed, the door led them outside on the cliffs once more, on which a narrow trail headed north towards the fourth and final complex. It was mostly dominated by four huge, round halls interconnected by walls and a single bridge leading on to a major dome with a lightning conductor at its top. The path seemed to end at a single iron door.
Catching their breath, the heroes soon after attempted to open the door without luck. Through brute force, Mutt and Galfûr pushed it open and quickly realized the amount of water gush out on their feet. Apparently, a significant part of these corridors as well as the connected rooms were flooded.  An old ladder, now beyond repair, had been smashed at the end of the hallway, and judging from its placement, it likely used provided access to the upper railings. For now the heroes were stuck at the ground floor, and slowly began the descent into the depths. The water was cold and reached their waists, as they reached the first intersection and decided to head right. Not long after they reached a door, but also noticed a hidden trapdoor below water. Setting up positions, they sprung the trap and met the rising four wights in front of them with true blood lust. (Originally, this encounter involves another kind of undead, Draugr, I think the name is. They’re one of those monsters you suddenly, mid-session, realize appear in Monster Book 2, so if that becomes an obstacle, I recommend just using the wights that will anyway appear later on, and reward the XP later)
Correct, you remember Draugr from Skyrim.
Moving on, beyond the next door they found a circular room with a low floor, meaning they had to swim in order to pass it. Approximately 30 feet above them, an old railing rested against the wall, providing access to two doors and a lovely view of the room. Sadly, the ladder leading up there had disappeared.
The heroes attempted to scout the room by lobbing a stone with light into the water. As it reached the floor, Galfûr noticed a slight movement. It was subtle and quick, gone in the next second.
“Guys,” he nervously said, as Mutt had started paddling in the water with a halberd “I really think we should get out of here…”
Ignoring the advice of the dwarf, the rest of the party kept staring nervously into the depths.
And then the depths stared harshly into them.
A transparent basilisk suddenly broke through the surface with a roar, its eyes glowing brightly. Everyone screamed, especially Mutt, who suddenly realized that he was the only one screaming. Around him, everyone had been turned to stone.
Thus began another brutal encounter, in which Mutt immediately shut his eyes tight and started swinging his weapon wildly. The basilisk hurled itself at his and sank his teeth deeply into his leg, and for a long time the two combatants dueled. Finally, the beast was slain by the barbarian, who immediately tapped the creature for enough blood to restore Edgar, Vincent and Aldarion (‘Yeah, sorry Galfûr, but you’re the new guy…) Letting the statue rest for a while, the party investigated the room to the north but quickly noticed a huge black pudding clinging to the ceiling. Hushing and mumbling they left it to itself and instead conquered the broken stairs with a levitate spell and a rope. Up on the railings they found discrete passages along all four basins, along with a small niche containing some alchemically preserved basilisk blood along with a wand of charm monster and potion of displacement. Restoring Galfûr to life, they took a very brief look into another room containing three headless monkeys in cages (so brief they didn’t trigger the relevant encounter). From thereon, they headed east towards the final bridge, and slowly approached the final tower. From the looks of it, the lightning conductor seemed old and likely used.
They had a shock, however, as a huge blow landed on the metal door from the inside, making a huge dent. In the second blow, the door flew off its hinges and a towering brute stepped on to the bridge. It was the guardian of the tower; a juggernaut of sewn-together flesh-pieces, now staring at them with a grin.
“The meddlesome pests,” it said in thundering voice “you will never reach what you seek! You will die on this bridge! Prepare to—“
The guardian was interrupted by Aldarion’s summoned pit spell and fell to the bottom with a howl (the interrupt-the-villain-speech gag never gets old). Then battle began. (I actually considered using ‘Clash on the Big Bridge’ from Final Fantasy, but nobody in my party would get it).
Mutt and Galfûr made a blockade on the middle of the walkway, keeping the rest of the party behind them. Drinking his potion of displacement Mutt had little trouble avoiding the golem’s attacks, and with an aimed grease spell, Vincent made sure it stayed prone most of the fight. The golem did inflict some wounds, though, and when it did, it hurt hard.
(Originally, you’re supposed to use the golem inside the tower, but then again – I think this makes somehow a more epic scene? Not sure if it’s able to talk either, but at this time we’d spent so much time drawing on battlemats, I needed just a little RP).
The final fight
(The ending of TotB has been widely discussed and is, in my optic, beyond doubt the weakest link in an otherwise brilliant adventure. To make a long story short, in the original setting, the players are supposed to go in, talk to Caromarc’s servant, realize they’ll have to climb/fly to the top and activate the Bondslave Thrall in order to summon The Beast of Lepidstadt. The Beast then shows up, smashes the living snot out of the CR 11 end-boss and everyone lives happily ever after. Some people (me included) are not big fans of huge NPC’s doing the players’ dirty work for them. Knowing my players, I was pretty sure they thought so too.
If this is the case, you have some options. If you want your players to have an epic final battle against the abomination, you can have the Beast fighting it once they enter the room. The creature than stuns The Beast in its webs and turns to the party.
The Aberrant Promethean is CR 11 and while a seventh level party might tackle it with a few casualties, you can downgrade it to match. This is the setup I used for a sixth level party with five players.
-          A minus 4 penalty to hit and AC (if your party is not min/maxing, you can decrease to-hit by six instead, still leaving it with a +14 to hit)
-          The Promethean only hits for 3D6 (might increase to 4D6 if you feel they can take it) This reflects it chaotic nature, a bit like Chaos-creatures in Warhammer, that sometimes do nothing and other times hurt a lot.
-          It has miserable saving throws which can be kept safely as they are
-          Lower its DR to 5/Adamantite
-          Leave the Moan ability as it is.  Consider lowering the difficulty of Paralytic Tentacles by 2.
Even in this state, the Aberrant Promethean is a decent challenge for many a party. The key to making it work, is to look at your own group, really. After Castle Caromarc you should have a pretty solid feeling about their capabilities, so use what you know so far and they should manage.
If your party has fallen behind on XP to a significant degree, consider awarding them the full XP-sum even though the creature was nerfed. It’s a good way to catch up.)
Meeting with Caromarc’s homunculus, the heroes got the impression that something bad and sinister awaited up ahead. Thus they armed and prepared themselves and kicked in the door to final laboratory. In the middle of it, they noticed a woman encapsulated in a tank of fluid. She looked unconscious. Next to her, entombed in an metallic prison, sat a person whose eyes only were visible. They stared desperately at the heroes and the showdown in the middle of the room. The Beast was fiercely trading blows with the most hideous creation they’d seen in the castle so far.
Resembling a horrific mix of s spider with a flesh golem’s upper body, on which limbs from chuuls and chokers had been attached, was the Aberrant Promethean. It sneered and with a growl knocked the Beast into a pillar of webs, before rushing towards the heroes.
Being fully buffed, they all hurled themselves at it, hasted and bolstered. Mutt was hurt badly in the first turn, being almost brought to his knees. With a cry of rage, Galfûr sliced his glowing blade through the things hardened body, splattering foul blood over the floor. Summoning patches of grease below it, Vincent managed to keep it down for a round, and Edgar called out to Gond for aid. Healing the wounds of his comrades, the clerics made sure nobody ever reached the brink of death, even though the damage of the Promethean was significant. In the second round of combat, the piercing shriek sent both Edgar and Galfûr running in blind panic, leaving the remaining three party members to juggle with the monster for a long time. Saved by his rage hit points, kiting and a very lucky miss, Mutt managed to remain standing till the cleric returned.
The Beast fighting the Aberrant Promethean
In the end, the total of stacking acid arrows, bane weapons and power attacks cut their way through the 117 hit points, sending the abominations gobbling to the floor.
With a relieved sigh, the heroes sat down on the floor and breathed heavily. They then cut out The Beast (“FRIEEEENDS!!”) and released who turned out to be none other than Count Caromarc himself.
The Count thanked them from the bottom of his heart and politely asked the heroes about their business at his castle. When hearing about the deeds of the Beast, he quickly defended it, revealing that his deeds in Lepidstadt were in fact controlled by the Whispering Way. The cult overwhelmed him in his castle, and not only released the myriad of foul beasts, but also got their hands on the bondslave thrall which is the only way of directly controlling The Beast of Lepidstadt. Through this they broke into the university and stole the seasage effigy and from there left the Count to rot among his creations.
Although Caromarc didn’t know much else about the Whispering Way, he overheard them occasionally speaking about the journey on, which involved the enormous forest of Shudderwood to the east. The only branch of civilization to be found there are the old hunting grounds of Ascalor Lodge, an exclusive recluse housing invited guests only. It was more than likely that the cult had made a stop there at least.
The Count could write them a letter of recommendation and reward them a generous amount of gold, if only they would remain silent of his experiments. Settling for a 4000g reward, the players received letters of recommendation from the Count and recuperated for some time. They then told the Beast and Caromarc goodbye, and rode towards the old hunting trail leading into the dangerous territory of Shudderwood…
And thus ends chapter 2 of Carrion Crown.
Coming up next: Broken Moon.
(It’s interesting to notice that we spent six sessions in total on chapter 2, just as we did with chapter 1. I wonder whether the same counts for chapter 3?
So, all in all, this was Trial of the Beast. From a GM-perspective, I’ll attempt and share some of my thoughts in general:
I was a huge fan of Haunting of Harrowstone, but Trial really topped it in my book. This adventure is brilliant in so many ways, there are so many things going on and a couple of ways you can handle them. Whether your players are Shakespearian or just want to tear monsters a new one there are plenty of opportunities to satisfy both.
On the positive side, I especially liked the investigation a lot. There was a lot of atmosphere when investigating the old university and the swamp of Morast. Even though we didn’t get to Sanctuary, I’m sure it would have been great too.
The trials were brilliant and if you have players with a taste for RP, I strongly urge you to play them out at least briefly. On the top of that, the nightly attack by the angry mob was one of my favorite parts.
If you love monsters of the dangerous kind there are lots of opportunities to satisfy those needs in TotB. Actually, it occurred to me how often I’ve written stuff like ‘ooh this encounters is hard’, ‘you should really look out for this one!’ and so on. And it’s because it’s just how it is. A more min-maxed party with access to books beyond core and advanced (and in this case, you only have yourself to thank for allowing them, really) would likely have an easier time.
I, however, found them to be pretty damn near the optimal level of frustration for my players. I prefer battles to be serious most of the times. They should something you consider avoiding if you can. So, if you’re plainly allowing core and maybe the advanced player’s guide, I can say from experience that these WILL test yourplayers. This adventure is, after all, written by Richard Prett, famous author of the Skinsaw Murders.
On the negative side I have a couple of comments.
It takes some work to truly incorporate the Crooked Kin (the circus from the start of the adventure) and it really depends on your players preferences. They will easily become trivial or uninteresting. Same counts for the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye of which Judge Embreth is a high ranking member. In my case this lead fell to the ground, mostly because my players left her in pretty bad standing. I don’t think it’s crucial to miss these elements, though. As long as they have a patron of sorts, be it her or the Count.
Castle Caromarc is interesting but in the end quickly turns into one long grind-session. I think it took its toll on my players who seemed to lose attention and patience around the end. They did end up skipping the flying medusa-heads, the vargouilles, the black pudding, the leech-swarms and the violet fungi. Depending on your preferences, they might really miss out on a sum of XP’s in this regard. It’s up to you whether to reward them anything or not. In my case, with five players, it doesn’t matter much if they’re a little bit behind schedule. They should be seventh level before heading into Shudderwood, though.
The castle could’ve been more interesting with added RP-possibilities.
The final battle is a severe lackluster as written. As I pointed out earlier, not everyone wants to see an all powerful NPC beat the BBEG at the end. Even when the players are allowed to control the NPC. It would have been nice with an option to simply fight him as he is.
Also, the artwork showing him and The Beast fighting is honestly…really, really bad. At first I thought the Beast was actually crying, to be honest.
My advice to any GM’s about to run this:
- Read well up on the trials in advance. There is a lot going on, and keeping it smooth makes for better scenes.
- Make yourself familiar with the XP-gains along the adventure. There are a lot of them, and they can be easy to miss.
- Know your party and look over the encounters with that in mind.
- If you want the festival in Lepidstadt to be a bit more memorable, I recommend my own (of course) guide to festivals: http://negativethac0.blogspot.com/2011/07/d-festivals-and-you.html 

-  You can find a HUGE help in the GM-helping-sheet by Daniel Langenhan: http://langenhan.info/RPG/ This helps you keep track on several elements of the adventure, such as the many, many clues. The one for TotB can be found here: http://langenhan.info/RPG/TotB_GM_Material.pdf I HIGHLY recommend using this! Really! I command it! And a BIG thanks to you, Daniel, for the amazing work you’ve put into it.
So I will see you guys again in a week, when we explore the mysterious Shudderwood!)

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