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Love for The Automatic Hound (Spoilers)


Dungeon Magazine General Discussion

Osirion RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I dunno, every once in a while, an adventure (or a piece of one) comes up that just....does it for you.

*SPOILERS*

The Automatic Hound in the latest issue is that adventure for me. It's awesome. I love the Hound of the Baskervilles feel of it. I love the tension between the wild Druidic beliefs of old and the new, "modernized" religion of St. Cuthbert. Father Kerin is a "good" guy who does some morally questionable things, in furtherance of his faith. I love the alien nature of the runehound, and the magic that keeps bringing him back, night after night, to haunt the town's inhabitants.

I can't wait to run this adventure. There are so many things you can do with the framework provided.

I love how there are just enough battles to keep it interesting, but loads of RP'ing opportunity. The puzzle that has to be solved in order to defeat the runehound...all of it. Just very very well written all around. Great adventure for low level characters.

Mr. Sutter, you have outdone yourself.

Alright, I'll pull my lips off your anus now.


Seconded, except for that nasty bit about lips and anuses.
I wish I hadn't read it, as this is an adventure I would have liked to be a player character in.
"Automatic Hound" has a l'il bit of CoC flavor (anybody remember the hound of Tindalos in Delta Green's Countdown?) but "keeps it real" in terms of the swords-n-sorcery setting.
It's not entirely different from the sort of adventure I often run for new players - an open-ended "mystery" with a lot of problem solving and investigation - but Mr. Sutter's managed to get some great and unique atmosphere and spin out of the concept. The adventure is also well suited to modification and adaptation as needed.
In short, the Automatic Hound is a home run, and I can't wait for the chance to run it.

Osirion RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I see the Runehound acting somewhat similar to the aliens in Alien. I can also imagine elements of that movie The Ghost and The Darkness in this adventure, as the PCs hunt it.

Maybe have the PCs hunt the thing for a few days, only to have it elude their first sets of traps, while continuing to kill townsfolk.

Father Kerin could be alcoholic, and even more so as the bodies mount. I can see some really interesting interactions if any of the PCs are druids or clerics of St. Cuthbert (or just match Kerin and the PC cleric's religion for effect).

After a few days, with the PCs failing in their attempt to catch the hound...the villagers set up a bell at the townhall, which they ring when they catch sight of the hound, or hear its baying in the distance. Good way to set the PCs on edge while they lay in wait for the hound - to suddenly hear a cacophony of bell ringing and shouts of "The Hound stalks the night! The Hound stalks the night! 'Ware!"

Man, I really liked this adventure.

Osirion RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Playing up on the creepy factor of the adventure, does anyone have any ideas for foreshadowing events that could occur in this adventure?

While thinking about it last night....3 possible scenarios came to mind, before the PCs actually come to blows with the Hound.

1) After an unusually quiet night (amid several nights of killings/attacks) the town believes the Hound didn't come. The PCs discover otherwise when conducting a search and find the local leather tanner's young boy (7 years old) strung by his entrails in the boughs of a very high tree.

2) Once the PCs track the hound back to its "lair", they discover bones and half eaten carcasses of many many animals - apparently the Hound has been butchering things on a large scale outside the town as well. Maybe it's doing so in a frustrated attempt to satisfy the ritual in the ring of stones.

3) The attacks continue to occur in the town. The Hound has taken to coming in to people's homes in the middle of the night through their crawlspaces, chimneys, etc. and snatches people from their beds and drags them off into the night. After several nights of this, the scared townsfolk band together in the church for safety. Assuming the PCs stay in the church with the townsfolk to protect them, they hear the Hound stalking outside the church. The PCs hear all of the town's animals going crazy for several hours - then all is eerily quiet. As the first rays of dawn break and the Hound appears to be gone, the PCs exit the church to find all of the town's pets/animals/livestock dead -throats ripped out but uneaten, their bodies arranged in a near perfect concentric circle around the church.

Qadira

Agreed, most awesome. While reading it, I couldn't wait to get to the end and see what happened when the rift was opened. Presents a nice long-term social dilemma, as well.

Andoran

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Occam wrote:
Agreed, most awesome. While reading it, I couldn't wait to get to the end and see what happened when the rift was opened. Presents a nice long-term social dilemma, as well.

Whilst reading the Automatic Hound, I was hit with the epiphany about how readily this translates into a d20 Modern campaign. Simply replace the NPCs with d20 Modern Ordinaries, add a few contemporary elements to the backdrop, stick it in the deep south, rural Maine/Pacific NW/Midwest, or a reservation bordertown, and voila!

(Makes me wonder how many adventures out there carry the same potential.)


I would agree. Actually an interesting setting for the adventure would be in, or near a native amarican reservation, or old indian burial ground. Might make it fun.

Salcor

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber

Did I mention that this adventure is great? ;-)


I liked the general idea for the adventure, except that there really is no "good" aligned option given to players. By commiting the dead man's body to the "altar", players are essentially completing the final part of a human sacrifice. That's an evil act in my book, no question about it. There's absolutely no option given for recovering the dead man's soul or at least stopping the "sacrifice" such that the creature's terrorism ends.

Shouldn't there be something that allows for the players to stop the creature without taking part in an evil act? Some kind of counter-ceremony or set of actions that would put the man's soul to rest without turning his unfortunate death into a human sacrifice?

Sorry, I just disliked the way that the players were forced into taking part in the final step of a human sacrifice. Not good at all.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Laeknir wrote:
By commiting the dead man's body to the "altar", players are essentially completing the final part of a human sacrifice. That's an evil act in my book, no question about it.

I heartily disagree... I view the completion of the sacrifice as a neutral act (if not good one some level). After all, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few - or the one."


So a human sacrifice to "benefit many" is now a neutral / possibly good action? You've got to be kidding.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

No I'm not kidding. We're talking about a fictional universe with a mythos of powerful gods and fantastic creatures, which does not abide by the rules of the real world. Moral values are creations, dependent on people's feelings and goals regarding themselves and others or on their belief systems.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it's the right or wrong thing to do. The original killing may not be morally or ethically sound considering a Good alignment, but finishing it for the greater good certainly is in my opinion. And (in game) this is not a "alleged" good - simply put, the people in Dramsburg will be spared if the hound is stopped. It's a tough choice, but I don't see how evil is a part of it.

Contributor

Laeknir wrote:

I liked the general idea for the adventure, except that there really is no "good" aligned option given to players. By commiting the dead man's body to the "altar", players are essentially completing the final part of a human sacrifice. That's an evil act in my book, no question about it. There's absolutely no option given for recovering the dead man's soul or at least stopping the "sacrifice" such that the creature's terrorism ends.

Shouldn't there be something that allows for the players to stop the creature without taking part in an evil act? Some kind of counter-ceremony or set of actions that would put the man's soul to rest without turning his unfortunate death into a human sacrifice?

Sorry, I just disliked the way that the players were forced into taking part in the final step of a human sacrifice. Not good at all.

Sometimes there isn't a good option. That's what makes it fun. The PCs have to choose between several unsavory alternatives.

If they want to go "outside the rules" of the ritual, then they would presumably have to come up with more powerful magic than the people who created the ritual in the first place. Something unlikely at that level.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

This conversation is exactly what I hoped for while writing this adventure. :) I've always been a fan of tough moral decisions in D&D, and I would honestly be a bit disappointed if lawful good PCs in this adventure didn't have to do some serious soul-searching. That said, as a player, I don't think that completing a ritual like this is necessarily evil... I mean, after all, the guy's already dead, and placing his corpse on the altar would potentially save an entire town's worth of people. But the counterargument that going against the wishes of a grieving populace and stealing the recently dead isn't exactly good (or socially advisable) holds water as well. It's the classic, "Would you kill one person to save a hundred?" question. Hooray for utilitarian theory at the gaming table!

Of course, if your party is so conflicted that they're no longer having fun, you could always have them find a convicted criminal that's been sentenced to death and sacrifice him on the altar, resetting the ritual.

And if that's too dark for your party, well... I'm curious what suggestions other people have!

-James


Jeremy Walker wrote:
Sometimes there isn't a good option. That's what makes it fun. The PCs have to choose between several unsavory alternatives.

Don't get me wrong, I like the overall idea and the backbone of the adventure. And in real life, of course there may not be good viable options.

However, if plyers are forced into an evil act (even by complicit, indirect action), there's nothing heroic going on here. Heroes, as defined by literature older than D&D, do not take part in (or "finish up") acts of human sacrifice. In any case, this isn't CoC... it's D&D, typically meant to be the adventures of heroes, those who may be conflicted but usually take the good and honorable path. Sure, people can do the evil campaign thing, but that gets old really fast.

If there was really hard good-aligned option (even one that would be incredibly hard for this level), then at least you'd have something for the players to morally consider. However, it's clear from the way it's written that nothing other than finishing the sacrifice will be effective. They're forced into an evil act regardless of any good options they try... and that just doesn't seem like D&D to me. Sorry!


James Sutter wrote:

Of course, if your party is so conflicted that they're no longer having fun, you could always have them find a convicted criminal that's been sentenced to death and sacrifice him on the altar, resetting the ritual.

And if that's too dark for your party, well... I'm curious what suggestions other people have!

Yes, that's too dark also. Trading the soul of a criminal for the soul of the unfortunate dead man is... well, worse.

Here are some options, just off the top of my head:

a) given that the sacrifice is incomplete as evidenced by the creature's wandering around, have the soul of the dead man in a kind of walking limbo. Perhaps he is trying to contact his companion, appearing to him as a ghost (terrifying him further). Through some method, players get in contact with the ghost, and the discover that yes, they could complete the ritual. Or they could find a method (through the priest, perhaps) of commiting the man's soul to his deity rather than fuel the ritual.

b) once they go through the trouble of finding out what is actually going on, players must find a druid or scholar who can give them tools for destroying the ritual site... or a wizard who gives them tools for unbinding the creature from its service. Perhaps a side trek to an old druidic burial ground, where they get answers. An ancient, ghostly druid could even enhance the moral questions here, suggesting the utilitarian argument or some kind of "evil act... good results" question of "balance".

c) maybe they find out that the two hunters (one of whom is the dead man) did more than just have an accidental death at the site. Perhaps they activated a precursor to the ritual, which was a morally questionable act (removing an old druidic item from another site or an old druid's ceremonial possession from a burial site), then "played" with it at the altar area - leading to the man's death. Having the survivor and the ghost repent in some way, helped by the players, might break the process of the incomplete sacrificial ritual.

Just my $0.02. With any of the above, at least the players have the *option* of choosing between good and evil.

Contributor

Laeknir wrote:
it's D&D, typically meant to be the adventures of heroes, those who may be conflicted but usually take the good and honorable path.

Hmm, you're D&D games are a lot different from mine :)

Anyway, you have some good suggestions there for how to modify the adventure if you think it's too dark. I especially like the "go find a wizard to help you break the curse" one, although you might be kinda leaving the townsfolk in the lurch for a few weeks.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Laeknir wrote:


Here are some options, just off the top of my head...

Go for it! At the end of the day, it's your game. :)


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Laeknir wrote:
In any case, this isn't CoC... it's D&D, typically meant to be the adventures of heroes, those who may be conflicted but usually take the good and honorable path.

I for one love a Lovecraftian element in my D&D game. To intimate that D&D consists of only "good and honorable" characters is to ignore many of the stories that inspired the game. Elric of Melnibone, Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, Conan... all of these seminal fantasy characters were less one-sided. You don't have to be a paladin to be heroic.

In a well-known quote from the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell wrote: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Completing the sacrifice and saving Dramsburg seems to fit that profile of a hero.


Destro Fett wrote:
Completing the sacrifice and saving Dramsburg seems to fit that profile of a hero.

Absolutely, most assuredly not. By completing the "intentionality" component of the human sacrifice, the players are commiting the soul of a man who died accidentally to either - oblivion (to "power-feed" the opening of the gate), or to service in an otherplanar power. Saving the lives of villagers by damning a person's soul, there's no way this can be viewed as heroic or even "good". If the human sacrifice was intended to be a blood / life energy sacrifice only, then his death alone would have completed it (at least as written).

The main moral dilemma here is not about what the players do regarding the body, it's about the fate of the man's soul. By placing the body on the altar, they are (morally!) making the decision to follow the intent of the sacrifice and thereby use the soul for either "fuel" or as a gift to the otherworldly power.

If you counter-argue that the intent was a sacrifice of human life energy or blood (perhaps like some Incan or Aztec tribes but not all), rather than a soul (like Greco-Roman sacrifices), this cannot be the case. As written, this follows the traditional "human sacrifice" of western cultures where the whole intent is to commit the soul of the condemned to the gods (or otherworldly powers, as the case may be). Blood alone was not enough for the ritual, and you could "trade out" the dead man for a criminal or other "willing" sacrifice. It's clear the objective isn't just blood or life energy, otherwise the gate would already be open.

There is no Campbell-esque heroic "victory" if a soul is offered up against its will to the gods or other powers in order to save mere lives. Bestowing boons on one's fellow man is not heroic if the price is murder, much less forcing a single soul into oblivion or unwilling service.

Qadira

Laeknir wrote:
Absolutely, most assuredly not. By completing the "intentionality" component of the human sacrifice, the players are commiting the soul of a man who died accidentally to either - oblivion (to "power-feed" the opening of the gate), or to service in an otherplanar power. Saving the lives of villagers by damning a person's soul, there's no way this can be viewed as heroic or even "good".

I don't recall the details of the sacrificial requirements, so forgive me if this suggestion won't work, but if what's required is any willing human sacrifice, then there's an obvious good, even exalted, route to take: One of the PCs sacrifices himself. The village is saved, innocent lives (and souls) are spared, and you have a powerfully dramatic resolution to the problem.

The PCs aren't forced into evil action, they may just be afraid of the only Good option.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Laeknir wrote:
There is no Campbell-esque heroic "victory" if a soul is offered up against its will to the gods or other powers in order to save mere lives. Bestowing boons on one's fellow man is not heroic if the price is murder, much less forcing a single soul into oblivion or unwilling service.

We'll agree to disagree on this one. It's entirely speculation of course, but those "mere lives" could have more of an impact on the great wheel than one soul. I don't think it's as black and white as you suggest.

But riddle me this: if a paladin kills a Lawful Evil goblin in the name of his god, is it righteousness or murder? (Ask the goblin and I'm sure he'll tell you the latter).


Occam wrote:
I don't recall the details of the sacrificial requirements, so forgive me if this suggestion won't work, but if what's required is any willing human sacrifice, then there's an obvious good, even exalted, route to take: One of the PCs sacrifices himself. The village is saved, innocent lives (and souls) are spared, and you have a powerfully dramatic resolution to the problem. The PCs aren't forced into evil action, they may just be afraid of the only Good option.

Well, ignoring the moral issue of a suicidal self-sacrifice for a moment (which is an interesting gray area, I admit), this doesn't really seem viable unless this is an end-game module. After all, one character would be irretrievably dead.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Laeknir wrote:
Bestowing boons on one's fellow man is not heroic if the price is murder, much less forcing a single soul into oblivion or unwilling service.

One last thing...

Murder is the illegal killing of one being by another. Unless they killed the sacrificial lamb in the first place, the PC's aren't committing murder here.


Destro Fett wrote:
We'll agree to disagree on this one. It's entirely speculation of course, but those "mere lives" could have more of an impact on the great wheel than one soul. I don't think it's as black and white as you suggest.

Nothing is black and white. All I'm saying is that the players should be given at least an option that is good. But they aren't. This is made worse by the fact that nothing except the dead body -or- the sacrifice of another human will complete the ritual. That means they don't have a choice, really. The entire village is supposed to be of St. Cuthbert and they all view taking the body and completing the "blasphemous ritual" (as written, in the adventure) as morally questionable, so the players are forced into an evil act because it's the only possible choice. There should have been some non-evil option, even an insanely hard one, that the players could take.

Destro Fett wrote:
But riddle me this: if a paladin kills a Lawful Evil goblin in the name of his god, is it righteousness or murder? (Ask the goblin and I'm sure he'll tell you the latter).

As you pointed out earlier, this is a game where Law, Chaos, Good and Evil are fairly rigidly defined. However, I won't side-step the question. If the goblin is engaging in evil acts, like killing citizens of the town, then it's justifiable to stop the goblin - paladin or no. If it's more a question of goblins in their own area who haven't attacked anyone and you're just going after them in their own region because of what they are and they haven't done anything to you and yours, then that's likely an evil act.

Murder, after all, is a legal term. It's the unlawful, premeditated killing of another - typically someone who has agreed to the same laws you have (and an uneasy truce between two regions, human and goblin). It doesn't apply to war, or self-defense, but it could apply to groups or races in other regions who aren't aggressors. Killing, depending on the reasons and how it happens, isn't necessarily evil.


Destro Fett wrote:

One last thing...

Murder is the illegal killing of one being by another. Unless they killed the sacrificial lamb in the first place, the PC's aren't committing murder here.

No, but they would be complicit in the act of condeming a soul to oblivion or service to a deity (or power) contrary to the man's chosen religion (Cuthbert). The original death isn't murder in this case, but the players are making decisions about the man's soul. Quibbling about the nature of the death is irrelevant. Human sacrifice is about more than spilling blood, and the players must make a choice about whether or not to finalize it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Laeknir wrote:
Human sacrifice is about more than spilling blood, and the players must make a choice about whether or not to finalize it.

I'm totally with you on this. But the outcome still looks like a good deed to me in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

And I must say this is a rather interesting and worthy debate. Thanks for bringing and keeping it up.


Destro Fett wrote:
I'm totally with you on this. But the outcome still looks like a good deed to me in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

Yep, I understand. What makes this really interesting is the whole idea of what players will do - is the immediate good better than long-term considerations?

I mean, following up with dark themes and moral ambiguity (because they are really cool in games, think how fun it would be to (later on) have the players re-visit the village. Maybe they find that the ritual's positive effects (improved CON, really fertile fields, all that) has radically improved the village's prosperity, but only in a physical sense. They're all rich and fat and happy, and the church is now beautiful and wealthy. But Cuthbert has abandoned them all for their hasty decision about a single member of his flock. Cuthbert might care deeply for every little soul, and that poor dead man's soul is now bound to the other realm. Additinally, ghosts of recently departed now wander the streets of the village, unable to pass on to their reward - all because they allowed the players to take the easy way out... because they didn't take the (good) yet insanely hard road.

The players might have to make an even greater recompense to save the man's soul, by re-opening the gate and going within... leading to another adventure with even more depth. And the final cost could be very great indeed...

You know, just roleplaying stuff, but fun!


I am ambivalent (gee... I love that word) about the adventure as far as the whole moral ambiguity issue goes. I often force my players to make unsavory decisions. It does make me wonder about the other side of the coin though. I'm thinking about an adventure where doing the right thing is the hard thing. for instance an evil person forced to do a good act as part of an adventure. Very few adventures call for a good act to be performed. People assume that a good act is easy, but that doesn't need to be the case. Sometimes it's actually far easier to be villanous. It certainly wouldn't hurt in the latter stages of the STAP.

The other thing this makes me think about is adventures that give the PCs multiple solutions to a problem. I think that the adventure would have been even more interesting if there had been the option of self-sacrifice for good players. In essence a good PC taking the place of the dead man and sacrificing himself (or herself) for the community. Human sacrifice is an evil act for a paladin or cleric of healing and mercy even if you don't actually commit the act yourself (for instance, disposing of the body). The same paladin or cleric sacrificing himself to stop the attacks is far from evil. It becomes an act of nobility and courage. This option would have truly made this adventure great (instead of just very, very good).

Osirion

Does the adventure explictly state what happens to the soul as a result of completing the ritual?

IIRC (and I dont have the adventure with me) its bringing the BODY back to the shrine that completeles the ritual. there may be some implication, but no hard evidence that anything nasty or evil is done to the soul itself.

Besides, its such a grey area that if you dont like this piece of the adventure, change it. Make it so that there is a way to complete the adventure and break the runehound's hunting without doing so. It's not that hard.

Qadira

Laeknir wrote:
Well, ignoring the moral issue of a suicidal self-sacrifice for a moment (which is an interesting gray area, I admit), this doesn't really seem viable unless this is an end-game module. After all, one character would be irretrievably dead.

Hey, no one said being good was easy. That's what makes the choice interesting.

Also... what if the soul isn't destroyed, and the former PC later returns as some sort of phantom, perhaps twisted and with revenge upon his, uh, mind? Good story fodder.

Qadira

Phil. L wrote:
The other thing this makes me think about is adventures that give the PCs multiple solutions to a problem. I think that the adventure would have been even more interesting if there had been the option of self-sacrifice for good players. In essence a good PC taking the place of the dead man and sacrificing himself (or herself) for the community. Human sacrifice is an evil act for a paladin or cleric of healing and mercy even if you don't actually commit the act yourself (for instance, disposing of the body). The same paladin or cleric sacrificing himself to stop the attacks is far from evil. It becomes an act of nobility and courage. This option would have truly made this adventure great (instead of just very, very good).

Is that not an option, even if it's not explicitly mentioned as one? Again, I don't have the magazine with me right now, and I don't remember the details of the sacrificial requirements.

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber

One thing I like about this adventure is that it gives you a concise setting, but doesn't herd you along one road towards a solution.

So if you/ your fellow players feel in a moralic plight, then find a different way reach to your goal. It is totally up to you how to accomplish "your mission", and some proposals were already mentioned above. If nothing else works, let a mighty cleric from the capital arrive, let him lecture his disciple, and save the day...

There are surely better and more interesting ways to play this adventure. :-)


I disagree. Every adventure has a bit of herding, even if it's not implicit. The fact that the herding in the adventure is subtle is a testament to Mr. Sutter's ability as a writer.

And no, the self-sacrifice idea is not mentioned in the adventure as a possible solution (as far as I can remember). It could be a possible solution, but Mr Sutter never gives it any credence.

By the way, I genuinely like this adventure. It is very well written and has an interesting premise (plus, it uses one of my favorite MM III monsters even if the runehound doesn't really yell Beastlands to me since it's an aberration). My complaint is not really a complaint if you read it carefully. It is simply idle musing about the nature of adventures and the proclivity some of them seem to have with mucking around with the alignments of good PCs (and for little real pay-off other than to complete the adventure).

Cheliax

What issue was this in and was there a pf conversion ever done??

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Whoah! Blast from the past! "The Automatic Hound" was my first solo-written adventure, in Dungeon #148. And I have no idea if there's been a Pathfinder conversion. But I hope that if so, folks will post it here!


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I loved reading this adventure, thinking it had great potential as a Norse/Irish flavor with the horned god of the hunt or using it with LotFP. Good job Sutter!

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Thanks, Kirwyn!

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