Sunday, March 4, 2012

Carrion Crown: Broken Moon pt. 2

(Again I will add, there won’t be many GM-comments in this part, because doing so would be very massive spoilers. They will come as soon as the heroes have left the lodge, but for now, this is purely a good little story, that might inspire some of you how to run your own Ascanor Lodge in the future.)
The heroes returned to the lodge in the late hours of night and were greeted by Belik, the halfling porter, who wore his most professional stone face.  Humbly asking for their permission and presenting them a strong brandy to recover from the bestial hunting session, he told them that the lodge-warden Estovion was very eager to meet them.
Duristan, their fellow hunter, wished them farewell and said he would return to their rooms later that night.
As the heroes crossed the boundary between forest and lodge, they saw an impressive two-storey compound surrounded by several small buildings. Only a couple of guards were out on patrol at this time of night, keep the several torches lit and making sure peace was maintained.
Entering the main building, they were greeted by a wall of heat, smoke and the sound of lively talk. Around the central room several tables were placed with a large fireplace to the north. The atmosphere was cozy, but only a few minor nobles hesitantly greeted them. The heroes realized they stuck out pretty much from the crowd here, but quickly headed up the nearby stairs to the room above. Belik didn’t make any attempt at conversation, but instead lead them down the nearest corridor, to a richly decorated door at the end. On the inside, a fine gentleman greeted them in a circular room covered in books. A desk rested against the wall and they noticed a set of stairs leading upwards.
The gentleman presented himself as Estovion Lozarov, warden of Ascanor Lodge. He was a small, thin man with a broad smile and a proper attitude when addressing strangers. He bid the heroes welcome and asked for their forgiveness about his rude gatekeeper.
“I hope you understand that official recommendations from the nobles aren’t all that common around here anymore, good Sirs. During the last couple of years we have grown quite familiar with our usual guests, rarely seeing new blood on these parts. I understand Count Caromarc sends you with his recommendations. It has been quite some time since we had the pleasure of his company. How is he?”
“Hanging around,” Mutt said. “We’re here because we’re looking for someone, and we hoped you would be able to help? You might have heard of them; the Whispering Way? A group of cultists apparently heading this way? Your gatekeeper seemed to recognize them.”
Estovion thoughtfully raised an eyebrow. “The whispering way?” he asked. “I am afraid that name doesn’t ring a bell? Are you quite sure the people you seek stopped here?”
“We are,” Edgar said. “About three weeks ago. Men wearing dark robes and staffs, they likely arrived at the late hours.”
“Ahhh yes,” the warden suddenly realized “I do seem to recall some talk about those. They can’t have stayed for long, or I would otherwise have noticed. I’m afraid that as long as someone gains entrance to the lodge, we don’t track their movement much. Part of the policy of privacy, I am sure you understand?”
“Of course, but this might be really important. Do you remember which way they went, Mr. Estovion?”
“I’m afraid not. All I can say is that they must have been approved by some authority since they were allowed access in the first place. I assume you will be leaving us then?”
“We might just go and talk to the gate-keeper again” Vincent said. “He might remember which noble had given them their recommendations.”
“I would advise against that,” Estovion politely said “we make a strong point of protecting the privacy of our guests. Even if Belik remembers, he is not allowed to tell you anything. I assume your wisest move would be to continue your search outside the lodge.”
The heroes gave it some thought and then asked Estovion about the recent werewolf uprising and whether he knew about the name “Mathus Mordrinacht” and the Silverhide Pack? The warden honestly couldn’t say he recognized either, but he encouraged the heroes to talk to either Duristan or Delgros about them. Of course they were also more than welcome to utilize the lodge’s public library down the hall. It wasn’t an impressive one, mostly consisting of an old hallway with a chair and some books set up on both sides. Of course, he said, they were also welcome to make an arrangement if they wished to use the tower-library. The heroes also noticed that the upstairs floor seemed to house even more tomes of knowledge.
Estovion had to end the conversation as he had plenty of things to see to, but assured that the heroes had forgiven the unfortunate event at the gate. He then explained that their rooms were ready for them, and that Belik was ready outside to escort them there. Bidding them goodnight he returned to his library, and the heroes walked to the other end of the second floor. Here Belik showed them two rooms which they could use as they saw fit. If any problems arose they were encouraged to call upon the staff immediately.
Belik waited for a short second for any tips, but since the cheapskate heroes merely looked at him with disdain he politely retreated and left them to unpack.
(Those of you following along from back home will notice that I swapped some of the rooms around a bit, so they likely won’t match the official map anyway. Not my original intention, but my prep time for a session is usually around 2 hours and getting the map details straight is of low priority. In a few situations it has created problems for me, but usually it’s not of dire importance.)
During this they couldn’t help but notice the sound of two people having a really good time behind the door opposite to their room. Judging from the door, this room belonged to Markiza Welgory. They didn’t take much notice of it, but were instead drawn to the faint sound of scribbling further down the hall. It intertwined with random outbursts of anger and swearing, and Galfur the dwarf decided to inspect it more closely.
Behind the open door sat a young man, deep in absinthe, scribbling on pieces of parchment. Ever so often he would angrily pick it up, crumble it, throw it on to the massive pile of discarded paper on the floor, and take another deep sip of the bottle. In a vain attempt to me friendly, Galfur greeted him, but the man looked up with an annoyed expression.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Galfur politely asked.
“You can leave,” he stranger sourly said. “Right now.”
“Now now, I was merely trying to be friendly?”
“I don’t need your friendship, dwarf. Get out before I call the warden on you!”
He aggressively slammed the door shut, leaving the befuddled dwarf outside. As he made his way back to the rooms he met Duristan who was on his way to check the heroes had been accommodated properly. Asking about the drunken man, Duristan laughed and dismissively waved a hand.
“That’s Corvin Tergsvor,” he said “A spoiled brat from the south. Gave you trouble, did he? Well, get used to it. Rumor has it he’s been sent away from home because his own family couldn’t stand him. A bit of pushover but a loud mouth on that one. My best bet; stay clear of him and he will be no trouble. There are so many other good people in the lodge who’d happily greet you properly”

They entered the room and Edgar  started pouring drinks from the mini-bar. As he opened the cupboard, however, a folded scroll fell to the floor. Curiously he picked it up and sat down on the bed.
“I think there is a message for us,” he said. Vincent, Galfur and Duristand all huddled up behind him. It was a simple message. In red ink, it read:
“Some secrets are better left uncovered. Leave Ascanor before you too fall prey to its curse!”“Seems like you have a fan,” Duristan said. “I sure don’t remember ever getting letters like this.  Stepped on anyone’s toes, did you?”
The heroes had to admit that this was somewhat a hard question. Before they could reach any logical conclusion, Mutt came wading into the room, waving around another small piece of paper he had found beneath his pillow. It read: “My friends, your investigations place you in grave danger!”
Not knowing who to blame for this, the heroes instead spent some time talking to Duristan about the place. There wasn’t much else to say besides from what Estovion had already told them, though. The libraries were available, although often through appointment. The grand hall downstairs was mostly used to dinner and breakfast and various facilities were at their disposal, should they wish to retreat and have a good time. Duristan even told them about Madame Ivanja, one of the recent arrivals who provided satisfaction for those with carnal needs. He could also tell them a bit about the Markiza and Estovion, both whom he never held very high opinions about. Most nobles at the lodge, according to Duristan, were boring sticks in the mud who never appreciated a good adventure. He instead encouraged the heroes to join him on another hunt in the nearby future, which they with some reluctance agreed to.
Before he left, he also asked whether they were still interested in getting a scar ward. A magical protection inscribed into the skin, able to ward off the effect of lycanthropy. They inquired a bit more about it and learned that Duristan knew a local witch able to perform the ritual and that he would happily sponsor such noble people as them, if it meant more werewolf hunters in the world. The heroes accepted, and he told them to meet him on the following night in these rooms, and he would bring the witch.
Tired as they were the heroes fell asleep and woke the following day to sunshine and the busy sound of the lodge outside. Edgar, who rose as the first, inspected the outside grounds who were teeming with people doing their daily chores or heading out for hunt. He noticed someone had slipped a note in under the door. This time around it read: “Beware the wolves who watch the woods. They see all, but leave no traces.”
He shrugged and threw it away.
Going social
The heroes had a quiet breakfast in the mainhall downstairs and had the chance to look around. Besides a few familiar faces, they also noticed some other people worthy of their attention, including a charismatic woman being referred to as Markiza Welgory. Both Mutt and Edgar noticed how she during the breakfast occasionally locked flirtatious gazes with a strong man across the room, apparently bearing the name Ostovach.
Next to the fireplace a silent guest spent most of his meal staring into the flames, as if deeply concerned about something. He wore richly decorated clothes and well set hair. His gaze was stern, almost angry, and at no time did he attempt to converse with anyone in the room, not even the servants.
Pulling aside the cook, the heroes learned that this was Cilas Graydon, former strategist of the aristocracy and renowned military commander.  The servants didn’t know much about him, except he had kept for himself almost two weeks now, as if a heavy burden rested upon his shoulders.
The heroes finished their meals and decided to do some investigation around the lodge. Whereas Edgar and Vincent both went to gather information about any local rumors, Galfur went to investigate the public library for rumors about the werewolves of Shudderwood. Mutt and Aldarion went to Estovion’s libraries, but as they knocked the door, a rather tired looking Estovion opened and explained that visiting would be okay, except he just had to clean up for a bit. A couple of minutes later they were both led in and began investigating.
This quick snooping around revealed for Edgar and Vincent that a lot of people were currently staying at the lodge and that intrigues and rumors were certainly not in short supply here. Besides from the obvious talk about the Markiza and her hound sharing carnal pleasure, people also told about Madam Ivanja and the gorgeous young girl in her employ. A lot of guests feared the threat from the werewolves and whether they would dare attack the lodge in the near future. They did, however, have lot of fate in the warden and his rangers to keep the peace.
When asked about recent visitors there were indeed telling of a group of three people arriving three weeks ago, all wearing cloaks and sinister appearances. It occurred to the heroes, however, that most of these stories were delivered by other guests who’d heard it from someone else, and so on. The best lead they had was that the stable master Quiene had serviced the cultist the night they arrived, so talking to her would indeed be prudent.
Upstairs Galfur learned that quite correctly, Shudderwood housed five major tribes of werewolves. Known as the Broken Ones, The Demon Wolves, The Silverhides, The Prince’s Wolves and the Primals they seemed to have been around for a very long time and had always attempted to share the forest between them.
Inside Estovion’s library Aldarion made good research in the tomes, and also learned that Mathis Mordinacht, the one the female werewolf was speaking of, was the leader of the Silverhides. He also managed to find quite an interesting connection between the werewolves and the Whispering Way, as the Prince’s Wolves had been sworn enemies of the Whispering Way’s lord and master; Tar-Baphon  - The Whispering Tyrant. One of the final bastions against this lord of darkness had been an old forsaken temple of Mielikki known as ‘The Stairs of the Moon’, placed deep within the heart of Shudderwood. (In the original adventure, Duristan can tell the heroes where the Stairs are, but this also provides them with the opportunity to race there straight away and thus skip a lot of good events. So I decided to give them a bit of a challenge.) During the reign of Tar-Baphon this temple was nearly destroyed and since then abandoned.

Other records now told that the werewolves used this place as a sacred site in which they held council and also placed the pack lord on the High Throne.  The lord was responsible for managing the clans and represented the utmost authority between them. This position he would hold till someone managed to dethrone him and consume his heart. At the time of writing, one of the Primals named Kvalca Sain held the title.
Despite his thorough search, Aldarion couldn’t locate the exact position of the Stairs of the Moon, but in a book describing the place in very vague terms, he found an interesting bookmark written in red ink. It read:
“See ‘Halo of Dreams’ on page 322. Filed under religion upstairs.” He pondered about this for a bit, but since neither Mutt nor Estovion seemed to have noticed, he gentle closed the book and put it back.
Asking Estovion whether it was possible to have a look at the library upstairs, the warden thoughtfully said that this could certainly be arranged but that he was in the middle of a busy project. He told them to come back tomorrow and they’d see what they could arrange (Poor diplomacy roll there).
Once again the heroes met downstairs and shared their experiences. They agreed further inquiries were needed and went to talk with Cilas Graydon, former military genious. Cilas was deep in brooding and originally didn’t provide the heroes with much input, but once they mentioned the name Echtmoor Dravin and showed him the bloody invitation, he grew eager with interest. They told him the story about the ruined tower and the weaver worm, and sadly had to confess that Echtmoor was dead. Cilas was shocked and went into mourning, but Edgar managed to tell him that in spite of the sad news, they had given poor Echtmoor a proper burial.
This lightened Cilas up and he sat down to take his time to thank the heroes for their huge effort. Rewarding them 2000g (As written, the heroes only get this reward if they bring Echtmoor’s corpse and bury it at the lodge, but I ruled this was just as good) he also told them a substantial amount about the lodge, and in return they mentioned their search of the Whispering Way and vain attempts to enter the libraries upstairs. Upon hearing this, Cilas angrily got up, telling them that this was unacceptable and that he would immediately speak their case to the Warden. He was, after all, a figure of some prominence and importance, and he was sure the warden would listen to him. Agreeing to this, the heroes went up to the libraries once more, except for Mutt the barbarian who decided to remain in the dining hall (I never really understood why?).
It was no sweat for Cilas to talk Estovion into submission, sternly telling him that these fine people were his friends and like any other guest at the lodge should be allowed to use the facilities. As the warden knew Graydon as a man of significance, he sourly allowed the heroes to enter the upper libraries, while he took residence at his desk in the other end. While the heroes browsed the books, Edgar noticed how the warden slowly brought some of his document down a drawer and from there on eyed them all suspiciously. He told them he had encountered accidents in which guests didn’t treat the books properly and that he refused to let such things happen again.
On his way around, Aldarion found the ‘Halo of Dreams’ and discretely flipped to page 322. There he found the following passage: “The origin of the Dusk Moth can be traced back to ancient times, though the role it played has been lost to history. Back then Mielikki’s priests recovered the relic from the ruins of Thassion and carried it into Shudderwood during the founding of Ustalav. There the priests constructed a temple to the goddess and disassembled the Dusk Moth, incorporating its parts into a great observatory atop the temple, which they dubbed the Stairs of the Moon. High atop the observatory, during the twilight hour, the faithful enacted a sacred ritual of communion to activate the power of the Dusk Moth, placing them in a heightened dream-state in which they could commune with the Song of the Spheres” (This text is a lore-nightmare if you’re not playing in Golarion. As we play in Forgotten Realms, I’m not entirely sure I got it all wrong, even though I edited it a lot. As said, I often have around 1-2 hours at most to read up on an adventure, and lore-bits is certainly not a thing I focus much upon. Certainly there will be some out there pointing out the mistakes…but fuck them.)More to the point, the book contained a detailed instruction how to reach the Stairs of the Moon.
As the heroes got up to ask Estovion further questions, they suddenly heard a huge explosion of stones from downstairs, followed by hysterical screams. Something was up.

Mutt, who had been sitting with his mug of ale, had almost dozed off when the northern wall collapsed from a massive force entering. Flying through the room he landed some meters away, and through the dust he saw an enormous tarantula crawling through the debris. Hungrily it looked at the other guests and started making a massacre. Crying for help, Mutt fled the scene of battle to the far corner, and waited a couple of rounds before his hasted allies entered the room. Edgar threw a warhammer at Mutt and then the battle commenced.
Whereas the spider did manage to inflict some casualties, the heroes easily took it down. Vincent and Galfur were both nauseated as part of the process, but as soon as Aldarion got off a heightened Glitterdust things certainly looked up. With its measly +4 reflex save and a DC of 17 it took some time before the beast shrug it off, and by then it was too late. It fell from a mighty blow and collapsed in a splatter of gore and spiky hair.
(This once again proves the fact that solo-monsters are mostly made of fail).
Everyone was immediately brought into the southern conference room, in which there was much debate as to what had caused this. At this point Corvin Tergsvor the Bard got up and loudly accused the strange coincidence of such tragedy along with the newly arrival of the five heroes. Everyone listened intensively to his claims, but Cilas was quick to stand up and defend the heroes, quickly pointing out that had it not been for them, everyone here would likely be dead.
With a smile, Corvin recoiled and merely pointed out the timing just seemed a little bit…lucky, for the glory of the heroes. And that perhaps they should be watched more closely in the near future. Deciding to ignore the urge to ass-woop the bard in front of so many witnesses, the heroes ignored him for now.
Instead, Estovion entered with a heartfelt apology. It would seem the tarantula was part of Delgro’s underground complex in which he bred exotic beasts for the truly awesome hunts. According to investigations, the groundkeeper of the lodge, Paucy Troabs, had been slacking and forgot to lock the gates properly behind him as he was bringing the food for the beasts. Paucy had now been placed in isolation and was awaiting his punishment. Estovion expressed his deepest sorrow for the clientele and offered them all a week’s extra stay for free, as a token of his embarrassment as a host. Everyone slowly broke up and moved back the new dining hall that had been constructed ad hoc. (You will notice that I made up a slightly different explanation for this event than the one given in the original adventure. Mostly because A) The original one seems….really…silly…. and B) This one provided the impetus for more investigation.)
“Oh, and one more thing…”
The heroes entered the main grounds and decided to get to the bottom of this. On their way they inspected the north of the lodge and found an old trail of blood going from the pens to the gargantuan hole in the wall. Apparently, someone had smeared it all over, close to the ground. Testing its substance, Edgar concluded that it was rat-blood.
Through divination, Aldarion concluded that this blood was truly from a rat which had seen its end this very morning, as it was being butchered by Paucy Troabs. They weren’t sure what to make of it and instead went to talk to the stablemaster.
Quiene bid them welcome and told them a bit about the visit from the cloaked ones just three weeks ago. They arrived at night and told her not to have their horses ready to leave. One of them carried a sinister looking little creature on his shoulder, which Quiene thought to be a familiar. She noticed they spoke in a thick southern accent, but besides from that all she could say was that they headed for the keep and returned a couple of hours later and rode out into the night. She did notice, however, that the Markiza’s hound, Ostovach, seemed to follow them for a while, as she caught glimpses of them walking around the lodge, moving north.
The heroes thanked her for her time and instead went to the tiny shed in which Paucy was confined behind lock and bar. Managing to bribe the guards to look the other way, they tried to initiate dialogue with the groundkeeper, who apparently made the best of his stay by dissecting rats. He walked to the window and looked at them blankly.
In an attempt to gain a deeper confession or further truth, Edgar and Vincent asked him about the recent events, but all he could say was that he had indeed been bad and done something horrible, of which he was now to be punished. The warden had said so, and he blankly admitted being responsible for everything related to the tarantula. Paucy was a simple man, though, so going into details wasn’t his thing. All he could say was that he did it.
So they returned to the Markiza’s room upstairs, but noticed to their horror that both their rooms had been ransacked thoroughly by unseen hands. Apparently nothing had been stolen, but whoever did this was certainly looking for something specific. Grunting and cleaning up, they concluded that someone with the proper key had opened their doors and that no forced intrusion had taken place. So they took what was most important to them and moved on to Ostovach’s room. Knocking the door let them hear a faint “In a minute!” followed by some bustling. Half a minute later, a poorly dressed tall man stood in the door, looking at them questionable. Outside they saw the open balcony with a grand view over the outside yard.
Letting them in, he listened to their story about the Whispering Way and what he had noticed. He could tell them that he was there the night they arrived and tried to stay clear of their way as they had a nasty appearance. He went to visit Madame Ivanja that evening, but it occurred to him that the three cloaked strangers had beaten him to it, and he was refused to enter. It ticked him off, but he thought better than to cross either them or the lady’s guards, so he went home. He recommended the heroes spoke to Madam Ivanja for further questions.
And so the heroes waited till late at night at which they met up with Duristan knocking on their door. Along with him was a small lady clad in long scarves covering most of her body and face. She spoke in a hushed voice and said she would provide each hero with a scar ward should they so chose. It was a long secret handed down from old generations and it would protect them from the curse known as lycanthropy. The heroes asked a lot about possible side-effects and ailments, but none were to be found. Originally there was some doubt and only Mutt the barbarian decided to volunteer. Then Vincent changed his mind and went along with it too, only to be followed by Galfur and Edgar. Only Aldarion the Diviner rejected.
So an hour went by, in which the witch methodically imprinted their chests with a richly detailed scar from small knives. It looked old and contained several runes none of them had seen before. When she finished she left the room and the heroes had a chat with Duristan about their latest plans. Although the young hunter had never been to Madam Ivanja, he’d heard a lot of good talk about her and definitely thought the heroes should check her out.
On their way out, they managed to pass the dining hall in which a fierce argument was taking place between Cilas and the young bard Corvin. Judging from the mumbling, several guests were listening to it, and the topic was nothing less than the heroes. Corvin enthusiastically argued that the warden should take affair and get these troublesome newcomers expelled before any more accidents would occur. To keep them here was to attract unwanted attention, and who knew whether it would werewolves next?
Cilas sneered at him, once again pointing out how much this lodge owed the new arrivals and that the young boy should mind his tongue about his betters. Otherwise he would answer to him in person.
The heroes stayed to overhear the argument for some time but decided to stay out of it and head to Madam Ivanja’s small tower to the northwest on lodge-ground. Upon arriving, several guards inspected them but allowed them in. Inside they met up with a gorgeous woman of gypsy heritage, smilingly bidding them welcome and told them they were ready to fulfill any needs they might have.
Telling her that they wished to speak to the woman entertaining the cloaked men three weeks ago, the heroes paid her 250 gold to be led upstairs. Here they found a well hidden harem with plenty of silk-pillows, sheets and furniture. From the ceiling veils hang and exotic plants decorated the floors. Right there in the middle, a young woman with heavy eyeliners was eyeing them, wearing nothing but a very thin gown.  She smoked on a water pipe while looking at them expectantly.
After formal introductions she presented herself as Niama, courtesan of Madame Ivanja. When asked about the cultist, she told the heroes that three weeks ago she was hired for three of them, but when they arrived they merely asked her to dance and then later sent her away. She noticed their thick southern accent and strange necklaces with gagged skulls on. Before she left, however, a strange man also showed up, with long white hair and a big white beard. He smelled strangely of beast.
As she left the room, she couldn’t help overhearing the words “Stairs of the Moon” and “The Packlord’s heart”. And when she returned an hour later, they were gone.
The heroes considered asking Niama for additional information, but at this time the young woman stood up and dropped her gown, gesturing for them to move closer. At this point Edgar the cleric left, along with Mutt and Aldarion. Vincent the sorcerer gladly began undressing, preparing for the time of his life, but noticed that so was Galfur the dwarf…
It became a night to remember.
Putting together the pieces
Madam Ivanja couldn’t tell the heroes anything they didn’t already knew, and so Mutt, Edgar and Aldarion headed back to the lodge to have a late night pint and think things through. They were all alone in the bar, discussing their next move for a couple of hours, after which Vincent and Galfur returned.
Dawn was slowly approaching, and they considered going to bed when they suddenly heard a piercing shriek echo through the lodge. Sprinting towards its direction, they found a crying maid outside a room, pointing inside with a trembling finger.
There on the floor lay their former friend and ally, Cilas Grayson, in a pool of blood on the floor, literally torn apart from the chest…
-          To be continued this Wednesday . (In which I’ve heard plenty of divination magic, and ‘Speak with Dead’ will be incoming)

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