PF Carrion Crown

In the hereafter
...Torvald is faced with a decision

As seen from the bird’s eye view, on the entry plateau to the hereafter…
Torvald awoke with a start, and very quickly realized that he was dead. The sting of the spider’s bite and tingle of its venom lingered for just a bit, and for a long moment the elf just lay there, accepting his situation.

Standing up to dust himself off, he saw others in the distance, wandering this way and that, looking for their direction in the next phase of existence. Although being killed by a massive arachnid that somehow broke into the inner buildings of a large complex without being noticed on the way had not been his picture of how he’d die, such was life, or rather death, and here he was.

“Heya,” he heard a voice say off to his left. Turning, he watched as a lean, fair-skinned, dark-haired young man approached.

“I’m Aebel, and we have some mutual friends,” he stated, a friendly tone to his voice.

“Torvald. You mean the Shadowslayers?”

“Yep – I was squeezed to death by a massive golem that looked like a self-propelled blob of puke with multiple limbs. How about you?”

“Stung by a massive spider with multiple limbs. Odd coincidence, right?”

Their conversation was interrupted by a sound from behind – a rushing wind sound was accompanied by a swirling light, and shadowy figures moving toward them.

“Crap!” shouted Aebel. “They’re coming for you – get moving or they’ll bring you back!”

Torvald had heard the stories and knew what this meant: his companions, or possibly someone else, was trying to drag him back to the land of the living. As he quickly processed the situation, the sylph spoke again.

“Dude! I’ve got girls and pie! Run!!” the other man shouted as he turned and began to sprint away.

The elf considered his situation: an inn full of obnoxious humans and one particularly odious halfling, or girls and pie.

He started running.

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A New Direction
into the Shudderwood, that is

After the Shadowslayers finished breakfast and made nice with their new riding companion, they headed off toward the southeast, eventually into the Shudderwood. The ancient, dark forest, widely known for it dangers, presented a few threats over a period of days. A group of ettercaps attempted to lure the party deeper into the woods; the ‘slayers wouldn’t bite on that hook. Aramond decided, against the explicit warnings of Torvald, to examine an obviously trapped hanging corpse, and was rewarded with several crossbow bolts stuck in his armor.

The nights were creepy, but since Torvald didn’t need to sleep, he offered to keep watch all night so long as he was given time to relax and meditate early in the evening.

After several days of travel, the party arrived at Ascanor Lodge and were denied entry by the swine of a halfling who ran the place – despite his being given a letter of introduction carried by the team. Well, screw them – we’ll keep heading through the woods, which had turned out to be far less menacing than stories had purported. As the team turned to leave, however, they watched as a loud-mouth blowhard minor noble, with men-at-arms and flunkies in tow, made a great show of entering the stockade, and even went so far as to try to boss the team around, treating them as inferiors.

Being both more clever and more experienced than Lord Duristan Silvio Ariesir (AKA Limp Bizkit), the team was able to throw down with their own spotty noble lineage, cow him into silence, and eventually able to get him to invite them to stay at the inn on his tab, so long as they helped with his werewolf hunt – he was, he said, a vaunted and famous lycanthrope hunter.

So they joined him, curious about what information he might unintentionally provide them and what clues they might pick up along the way. What this had to do with the Whispering Way was beyond anyone’s thoughts – in fact, an old-fashioned werewolf hunt in the Shudderwood, upon short reflection, sounded pretty pedestrian as an activity in Ustalav, compared against tracking down the agents of an ancient, powerful, and obviously active cult. No matter – werewolves and mildly obnoxious wannabee great white hunters it would be.

Acting on information from Lord Limp, the team tracked what turned out to be three dire boars, and killed them…leaving their noble patron shocked and awed by the ferocity, speed, and skill with which the great beasts were dispatched. His behavior, still haughty, now took on another annoying aspect, as he showed signs of a highly distasteful ‘bromance’-like admiration of the Shadowslayers.

Deciding to stay out in the forest, much to Torvald’s chagrin, the group set out traps for the werewolf that their ersatz patron was sure he was going to capture. Deep in the night the attack came, in the form of four greatsword-armed werewolves, who shredded the help before anyone could respond. The team awoke and attacked, with Celeste firing shots from her pistols, and the noble firing an arrow or two into the dark.

The fight was the toughest they’d experienced since the golem had killed Aebel…dear, important, respected and clearly needed Aebel…with many members of the team wounded. Three of the fell beasts were…felled…before the apparent leader retreated far enough to monologue for a moment about territories, warm beds, and how he wouldn’t take anyone’s crap anymore, and then make good his own escape into the night.

The three fallen beasts, after having breathed their last, transformed back into men – men who could not be identified even after the bodies were dragged back to Ascanor Lodge at dawn.

The team, on Lord Limp’s tab, ate and got cleaned up, and agreed to gather later in the day to discuss what to do next, and how to keep milking the noble’s tab for all they could.

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Breakfast at the Three Harbour Inn
Moons over My Lepistadt and a side of Slapcakes

The Shadowslayers – the three remaining members – gathered to break the fast early the next morning, and to plan their next move, as it seemed that their work in the city was done. Unanswered questions about the plans and actions of the Whispering Way lingered, and were the unspoken focus of discussion as the meal arrived. Using indirect references and cryptic language, the men were able to openly talk about their plans in the slowly-filling common room.

Tavern

So focused were the three on their talk and food that they didn’t notice a lone elf sit down at the table next to theirs, his back turned to them.

“We need to pick up whatever trail is left and follow it,” emphasized Rip before taking another long gulp of hot tea.

“I hope you follow it more closely than you did Lord Degron’s scouts, old friend…” muttered the elf, loud enough to be heard, his head turned partially toward the team.

Rip sputtered, spitting part of his tea into his oats. Conversation screeched to a sudden halt as all eyes turned to the stranger who’d just injected himself into their breakfast.

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A Fond Farewell

The Shadowslayers had been out of action for one week, one extremely busy week. The companions had borne their friend’s remains to Lepidstadt, to the Temple of Pharasma. Upon arrival, Father Benedict sent to a Pharasman peer in Nirmathas, alerting him to the situation and requesting that Aebel’s family be aware of the situation and asking what their wishes would be. The Professor’s body was cleansed both physically and divinely by Johann and the Clergy of Pharasma, as well as Aramond providing an Iomadean ritual. Word came back that they would send an envoy to receive the body, but due to Nirmathian customs, it was imperative the body must be transported quickly. Aramond, Rip, and Johann travelled to Lastwall with the divinely preseved remains of Aebel, where they met with the envoy. The companions had already had a service of their own, but they took the time to Lunch with the Nirmathi Militia Commander, providing him and his Officers with a recount of their time with the Professor, and the details of his untimely demise. Yoric, the Commander, appeared to be satisfied with their explanation, and the rest of the extended meal was filled with brief stories of Aebel. Stories of both his heroism, and his quirkiness. With a fond but sad look in their eyes, the men clasped hands and departed, the companions watching the Nirmathi envoy leave with their once friend and companion, Professor Aebel Zanduri. Sylph by birth, Shadowslayer at death.

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MacLeesh Arrives
Quiet and a little cold

It took the elf only a week to make the journey from southern Varisia to Lepistadt, given the quality of the roads and his connections with Sullwyn’s trade caravan. A comfortable few days in a wagon and he found himself before the temple of Pharasma in the Ustalav city, and monents later inside, having satisfied the ‘greeters’ with the right names and pass phrases. Shortly thereafter he was in the personal office of the prelate, sipping ale with the old man.

“So you’re certain – that is, your inquisitor is certain – that the Whispering Way is involved in what’s been going on here…” he let his quiet voice trail off as he took another sip. The older man had spent some time desribing what had happened with the beast, the trial, and the party from Ravengro, as well as how they had gotten involved. This was after initial small talk and pleasantries, and news that MacLeesh brought from Varisia.

“I am,” stated the older man, a grim edge to his already gravely voice.

“Then I will have to join this party of investigators. You say they’ve returned from the keep and are staying at which inn?” he queried, adding more details to his small notebook as the older man provided him with the information he sought.

The discussion resolved, their talk drifted back into lighter conversation. After a little while longer the older man finished the letter he’d been writing while they’d been speaking, sealed it with wax and his signet ring, and handed it across his desk to the elf as they both rose to part ways.

“Give this letter of introduction to Father Johann – he will understand and it will welcome you. Is there anything else I can offer at this point?” the old man asked as they shook hands.

The elf’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Prayers are helpful.”

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Is that you, mom?

Walk into the light

Aebel struggled against the golem’s grasp, and went limp. Once his muscles relaxed all the air was squeezed out of his lungs and his head and feet began to swell with blood. Within moments his eyes were bleeding, and then his ears, his face a bloated purple as a lack of oxygen and a flush of blood radically changed his appearance. Unconsciousness came quickly, and through the blackness…a light.

And a cool breeze through warm sunlight.

And a familiar voice, calling to him.

In another moment he caught a faint scent from home – freshly-cooked pie – and heard the rustling of leaves on the great trees of his forest home of Nirmathas.

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A Summary of Events
written while in town for a short break

I have no idea what’s behind the traps, creatures, and other threats inside the count’s castle; however, we had no choice after clearing the first two buildings and first tower but to return to Lepistadt to have Johann cleansed of some nasty rot he contracted from a mummy’s attack. So awful was the disease that it was beyond our collective abilities to heal him, and we had to seek intervention from the lead cleric at his temple to staunch the progress of the boils that were covering his skin, and weakness that sapped his strength.

That said, we were successful in destroying a large flesh golem and its attending homonculi; a swarm of leeches; an undead beast in the bottom of a flooded tower; four water-soaked skeletons in a flooded pit trap (thanks Aramond); a mummy and a mimic; and we had some fun throwing things down into the waterfall, including something evil that made hissing sounds and was locked in a trunk.

Faceless flesh golem


I discovered an enchanted rod that will enable me to put out fires, and I am guessing will also enable me to damage beasts and entities that are made of fire, but I’ve yet to have an opportunity to try it out. We also found a wand that holds a number of charges of an acidic arrow-like attack, which I made frequent use of against several of the enemies we encountered.

Lacking hard evidence, I am going to make a guess as to what’s going on in this castle: I think it was either attacked from without, and partially plundered, or more likely I believe, that something of a civil war erupted inside and constructs that the count had made or collected began to attack one another or him. The place seems pretty well looted of valuables, too – it’s interesting that in place with such expensive collections of oddities there is such a dearth of coin, magic items, and valuables of other types. Perhaps whatever party or parties fought also made off with those things, or the count only collected dead things he could put on display…what a freak. Several locations also show a great deal of structural damage.

And so tomorrow we will head back and finish this job. We’ve explained everything to the temple leadership, have refreshed our supplies, and are ready to head out at first light.


Meta
I don’t have anything to go on for what’s in the other towers and the other locations we’re going to skip, so we can add that as comments on this post. If we were making a movie, this would be a transition scene, or a montage – we’d blow through the ‘bla’ stuff to get to the interesting things that are actually part of the plot.

I think that’s the problem with modules that are designed this way: they plug in encounters now and again that are actually part of the plot, but in order to obey the mechanics, and to ensure that those story-related encounters are progressively more challenging, a string of XP-generating encounters are peppered throughout. They enable us to add levels, but they actually add little to the story. And when they happen in succession, and for long periods, they really detract from the story. Side stories are one thing, as they enable character growth and the introduction of different, short, stories & ideas. These encounters, on the other hand, are like really boring terrain you see out the window of a train while you wait to get to where you want to go. Anyway, just some thoughts there.

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Paying a Visit on the Count
all aboard!

Aebel’s Journal

  • Upgraded weapons and armor in Lepidstadt; left for the castle before dawn
  • Made good progress along the marsh; ambushed by undead spell casters in the afternoon; swamp creature came to our defense; defeated undead – questions linger as to their source and reason for attacking us (no answers; no clues).
  • Swamp creature (vines & leaves?) seemed druidic, interested in protecting the swamp, and hoped that we’d ask the Beast to stop crushing nature with his big feet.
  • Reached ‘castle,’ which was actually several separate buildings situated around rocky cliffs and a 200’ waterfall. Narrow footbridges connected the buildings; no guardrails (great!).
  • Troll hounds guarded the front of the two-story gatehouse; attacked them when they rushed Aramond and Rip. Took fire – stones and ballista – from inside tower. I used my newly-mastered power over fire to blast them inside the tower, repeatedly. Aramond kicked in the front doors – met by trolls in the small bailey. Our fire was quick, due to our use of fire – multiple trolls defeated, goblins killed.
  • Found add’l trolls and troll hounds upstairs – defeated them, as well.
  • Struggled for a while to get through the front door of the castle itself, across the bridge. Killed a alchemical hound in the process, and Rip’s clever idea of dressing up as a servant was what got us through. Searched the two-story building, finding a library, bedrooms, and other chambers, but no people – some magic hidden behind a cabinet. Aramond and I agreed that taking things wouldn’t be kosher at this point… it appeared that the trolls had attacked and tried to gain access to the castle, but were beaten back. Perhaps the occupants of the castle weren’t our enemies? Treating findings as plunder wouldn’t be appropriate at this point.
  • Decided to barricade ourselves in the master bedroom and sleep for the night to regain our energy. Had a fitful sleep due to screams and moans echoing around rocks & falls. Tomorrow should be interesting.
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Loot
by request

As listed on a file card…

  1. Sticky Potion (magic)
  2. Bubbly Potion (magic)
  3. Stick/Wand (magic)
  4. Mace
  5. Two packages of dust (both magic)
  6. Formula Book (“How to Serve Man”)
  7. Keys (to the whole joint)
  8. 5 (somethings…can’t read the writing! sorry!) (magic)

Meta
GM: please add as comments what this stuff is, to the extent that we were able to figure it out. Aebel rolled a 3753 for Spellcraft.

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Order in Our Court
Shadowslayers, esq.

Realizing that their writ from the courts gave them some measure of authority when it came to investigating the case, the team headed to the head judge’s house with news of their findings at the workshop. Aramond stayed behind to secure the location and get better acquainted with his new flunkies, Hurq and Jurq.

The judge was shocked and dismayed by all the news, but especially that of the ledger and its contents – so much so that she requested that they keep silent about its contents. They refused to hand it over to her at this point, however, and instead made arrangements with her to have the evidence moved to the court for admission at the morning’s proceedings – it was going to be an interesting day of litigation.

Fast forward a few hours and through the prosecution’s heavy-handed attempts to surf the crowd’s lust for blood, the team took turns presenting their evidence. A parade of skin suits, forensic proof of what was going on at the workshop, discussion of the impossibility of the massive golem fitting into a tiny cave, and a speak with dead cast on the head doctor of the Sanctuary all served to shock and sway the jury, as well as rile up the crowd. The director of the Sanctuary stated that the Beast did not destroy the facility – it was the alchemical brothers! And the skin trade? He was in league with them for the sale of body parts! The guilty struck the guilty in that case!

Aramond’s testimony pushed the Beast to sobs – his tearless sobs – further challenging the prosecution’s case. And the skinwalker’s body was produced, clearly showing a massive scar on its right shoulder.

After the state decided to continue the trial beyond the 2pm break and finish it, more evidence was presented and the crowd inside and outside the court had divided into two equally volatile camps: one in favor of burning the beast, and the other in favor of his release. The closing arguments were punctuated by more outbursts from the crowd and an emotional accusation by Aebel of the crowd’s seeming desire to convict the innocent. Finally, the courtroom was ordered cleared, and only the legal parties were left when the verdict was read: innocent on all charges. The Beast would be released!

Outside the two camps virtually broke into a riot. Absolving the Beast of the crimes was won; but ensuring the Beast’s freedom at this point was very much another. The team arranged for a distraction, luring the crown in one direction, while they made a fast escape in a large, covered wagon holding the Beast, and headed toward the outside of town. The Beast wished only to return to its ‘father,’ the Count Caromac (sp?), who lived on the other side of a large marsh, some 25 miles outside of town. The team safely reached the watery land’s border, and watched as the Beast bounded over the horizon.

Back to the judge’s house they went, where they bargained 5000GP worth of gems out of the old bag in trade for the ledger of names. Johann and Aebel, of course, had already copied some of the pages out of it already, and did not inform the judge of such. In addition, the judge payed each member 100PP for their work. Finally, she informed them that if they wanted to learn more about the Whispering Way, they should – surprise! – check in on the Count, since it seemed that the cult had used some device to control the golem to do their bidding, and that device was the property of the Count, it seemed. So across the swamp we’d have to go if we were to find the next clue on our hunt for the killers of Professor Lorrimor.

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