We've started a new Rise of the Runelords game using the Anniversary Edition. I'm going to be trying to diary it in more-or-less realtime, so we'll see how that goes.
So far, we've had our character creation session and everyone's gotten their handouts. The first actual game should be tonight.
Our Heroes Are:
Kriger the Wanderer – Ulfen Cleric of Desna. Trained under Father Zanthus.
Tobar (aka Toby) – Chelish/Varisian Fighter. Native of Sandpoint who joined the guard following the Late Unpleasantness. Big enough and fair-haired enough that people joke he and Kriger are brothers.
Fijit – Gnome Bard. A devout follower of Cayden Cailean who is in Sandpoint looking for a party and, you know, adventure. Staying at the Iron Dragon.
Mechanically, Kriger is focusing on channeling and Tobar is your traditional giant weapon Power Attack/Cleave death machine. Fijit isn't what you'd call... focused, being a bard, but she will have plenty of chance to shine with bardic knowledge. And the party could probably use a generalist anyway.
Attributes were generated by everyone rolling up an array of scores (4d6, drop the lowest), then each player choosing which array they wanted (allowing duplicates). In practice this meant Fijit kept the scores she rolled, but Tobar and Kriger are both based on Kriger's rolls.
I also put some houserules up for a vote.
Max HP – PCs will have max HP at each level rather than rolling for HP.
I don't really like rolling for HP and this seems like a nice way to help give the party a boost to make up for the small size.
Criticals Always Confirmed – Any critical threat is automatically confirmed.
Failing to confirm crits is just depressing, as is confirming it, then rolling really badly and barely doing above normal damage. This will make combat swingier (another reason for max HP), but everyone thinks it'll be more fun.
Advantage/Disadvantage – We'll be using Advantage/Disadvantage from 5th Edition rather than a lot of situational modifiers. If you have Advantage, roll two d20s and take the higher. If you have Disadvantage, roll two d20s and take the lower.
This is probably the biggest house rule, but I've found it cleans up a lot of situational modifiers I don't want to bother keeping track of. It also rewards innovation and description more than a +2 circumstance bonus, which I think is a plus.
Up next: Handouts!
At the start of each of my campaigns, I give handouts to the players. Traditionally it's one page, plus a page if they gave me a good character hook to work with, and a page for each Knowledge skill they're trained in. If they train in Knowledge skills later, I come up with another page for them then.
Fijit and Tobar were in my last campaign and know the drill, but Kriger is new and loved having something tangible boiling down his connection to the setting.
I have an unhealthy love for hiding foreshadowing in these handouts. Of course, each sheet is largely background fluff and red herrings, so it's more foreshadowing in retrospect.
My last campaign also involved Thassilon, so I included some information up front so the players don't have to separate knowledge as hard.
Fijit has Knowledge (arcana), and bardic knowledge to fall back on. I tried to have her handout include a bit of everything and capture a more conversational tone, which fits the character.
Varisia is a particularly interesting place to study the magic arts. Many places have bigger or better academies. Some even have crazier magical stuff going on, if you can believe the tales, but history says Varisia is where wizards first learned their craft.
It's said that the inhabitants of ancient Thassilon were the first to perfect wizardry, learning magic rather than relying on the gods or vagaries of birth. Although much of this early work has been lost or forgotten, the structure of wizardry still reflects their seven-fold approach.
The most popular mystery of Thassilon is the Cyphergate in Riddleport to the east. It's rune-covered arc passes over the entire Riddleport harbor, but nobody seems to know what its for. An entire order of wizards, the Cyphermages, have been studying it for decades and, depending how you listen to, they're either no closer to figuring it out or are about to destroy the world.
In Sandpoint the biggest mystery is the existence, disputed even among residents, of the Sandpoint Devil. Several locals claim to have seen the beast, while others can point to strange scorching hoofprints on walls or roofs where the thing is said to have walked.
The Devil's said to be a child twisted into a terrible shape by the curse of Lamashtu, now a firebreathing predator in the hinterlands, devouring livestock and ill-fated travelers. Rumors differ on its lair: a rocky plateau to the north known as the Devil's Platter or the caves beneath the reportedly haunted Foxglove manor to the south.
Whether the Sandpoint Devil is real or not, a variety of strange creatures wander the nights of Varisia. It's said the ancient Thassilonians worked all manner of magic into their servants and some varieties bred true or can reemerge under the right circumstances.
The town of Whistledown is the largest concentration of gnomes in Varisia. As such, it's naturally a center for music and magical learning. The town takes its name from cunningly carved wooden charms that make haunting music with the winds off the lake.
When you last passed through, the town was abuzz with news of a gnomish explorer returning from a trip to the far south with a collection of burial relics. Rumors you've heard since then blame a string of disappearances on her discovery, but that's humans for you.
The Rusty Dragon
The best place to stay in Sandpoint, bar none, is the Rusty Dragon. There are always interesting people there, plenty of other travelers, and the owner gives you half off if you can spin a quality adventuring story.
The owner herself, a woman by the name of Ameiko Kaijutsu, is a retired adventurer. She doesn't talk much about her time wandering the world, but actually has a spectacular singing voice.
The City of Monuments, a short distance to the south of Sandpoint, is one of the only cities in Varisia. Although the residents of Korvosa would disagree, Magnimarans consider themselves the center of Varisia's arts and culture.
Nowhere are those arts and culture more obvious than at the Triodea, a massive concert hall with three performance spaces. Playwrights through Varisia dream of their works being performed on the Grand Stage, while consorts and soloists look towards Stonewall and the Aerie respectively.
The greatest of the monuments that give the city its name is the Giant's Bridge, one end of a broken bridge built during the reign of Thassilon. Even in its damaged condition, an entire neighborhood lives in its shadow. More recent monuments dot the city, rumored to hold secret magics all their own.
Although Magnimar doesn't have a magical school to match the Academae in Korvosa, it does have the Golemworks. Students and buyers from as far away as Osirion will visit the renowned builders of magical constructs.
You haven't spent a lot of time in the hinterlands of Varisia yet, but the tales that trickle in from those regions are intriguing. Ruins of ancient Thassilon, most undiscovered, dot the landscape from the sea to the orc lands known as the Hold of Belkzan.
Unfortunately, the hinterlands are populated by unfriendly Shoanti quahs (clans) and rare Varisian caravans. Stoic tribesmen, insane goblins, and fearful bugbears are the least of travelers' problems, however, because giant clans rule with an iron fist throughout the mountains.
It's said that the Heidmar family in Magnimar will pay good money for reports and maps of inner Varisia. It's anyone's guess whether this has any relation to the old tales of a city whose streets are paved with gold.
Up Next: More Handouts!
Kriger has knowledge (history), which will assuredly come in handy. I went a slightly different direction with his Thassilonian knowledge, although he obviously knows plenty about them as well.
Kriger grew up as a resident of Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. He was a devout worshipper of Desna, but you don't worship the Traveler by staying in one place. He was sent to learn among the southerners in Sandpoint and remained after he finished his training, planning to leave after the Swallowtail Festival.
I added an old Varisian tale of Desna destroying Thassilon by dropping a star on them as punishment for trying to awaken an ancient evil in the mountains. It's not accurate, but seems like as good a guess as any about what happened during the fall of Thassilon.
I also made a larger change because I misspoke during character creation. I said that Father Zantus's adopted daughter died during the Late Unpleasantness, rather than Father Tobyn's. Kriger's player seized on that to explain why he stayed in Sandpoint after completing his training (to comfort and aid his friend and mentor).
There wasn't any way I was throwing away a hook that good, so I've retconned who adopted Nualia. Tobyn is instead going to be her biological father, with the mother having been a powerful servitor of Desna who repeatedly visited Tobyn in Sandpoint.
The servitor returned to Sandpoint after a year, having drawn Desna's ire for shirking her duties to be with Tobyn. Tobyn, misunderstanding the nature of his goddess's wrath, was wracked with guilt at their dalliance and turned the child over to his aide Zantus.
Zantus never told Nualia the secret, but she found out in her prayers to Lamashtu. If it's revealed to Zantus that Nualia was involved in the theft of Tobyn's corpse, he'll haltingly relate the deceased priest's story.
If Nualia survives somehow, she'll attempt to hunt down her blessed mother, sacrificing her to complete the transformation.
As the goddess of travelers and luck, Desna is known far and wide. It is said that she is worshipped even in Tian Xia, across the arctic wastes known as the Crown of the World.
In the Ulfen lands of your birth, Desna is seen as a woman riding a great elk. In these southern lands, she's seen as an elven woman with butterfly wings that contain all the beauty of the night sky.
Her story is the same in both cultures, however. She is among the eldest gods, responsible for placing the stars in the sky and protecting Golarion from those things between the stars.
If Desna has one enemy, it is the goddess Lamashtu, the Mother of Monsters. Their bloody conflict is said to extend to the very dawn of time, before Desna took humanoid form and began guarding the world's travelers.
Kalsgard, in some ways, was the perfect city of Desna. Mercenaries from across the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, dwarves from beneath the surface, and merchants from as far away at Tian Xia converged there as a center of travel and trade.
One doesn't follow Desna by standing still, however. Sandpoint is like Kalsgard in microcosm, Travelers pass through from all over Varisia and beyond, traveling up and down the coast from Magnimar.
You would likely be on the road again if not for the Late Unpleasantness. As a terrible series of murders was finally brought to a close, the old Sandpoint chapel burned to the ground. Both old Father Tobyn and your senior Brother Zantus's adopted daughter disappeared in the blaze.
Between the sudden promotion and the loss of his daughter Nualia, Father Zantus has had his hands full.
Varisia is a land steeped in truly ancient history. Grand relics of ancient Thassilon dot the landscape, from the great Cyphergate of Riddleport to the foundations of Kaer Maga to the east.
Even in Sandpoint, the ruined tower of Old Light attracts arguments from sages. In another land, they might argue how many centuries old the tower is. In Varisia, it's a question of millennia.
Although Brodert Quink considers himself the local expert on all things Thassilonian, his theories verge on the mad. He believes Old Light was once a weapon of war, capable of burning armies to a cinder from miles away.
It's said, during the ancient times of Thassilon, the empires ruling class enslaved the ancestors of today's native Varisians. As Varisian caravans often seek Desna's blessings on their endless travels, you know more about these tales than most outsiders.
The Varisians speak of seven great wizards, rivals more often than allies, each of them ruling a powerful kingdom. Their ancient runic script still covers many Thassilonian ruins in Varisia and is the basis for Varisian tattoos, reminders of the slave brands they once bore and Desna's aid in winning their freedom.
The story of Desna's aid is one you've only heard once. An elderly Varisian woman spoke of a great evil sleeping within the great mountain Mhar Massif on the northern border of Varisia. She said that rather than allow the wizards of Thassilon to awaken the evil, Desna hurled down a star from the sky and destroyed the empire in a single night.
Scholars do agree that Thassilon fell around the time of Earthfall, when a great stone fell from the sky and shrouded Golarion in the aptly-named Age of Darkness. Neither scholars nor the scriptures of Desna suggest the goddess had anything to do with it, however.
More recently, the story of Varisia has been the story of Chelish expansion. At first, Cheliax was very involved in the process. That was before the fall of the god Aroden and the traditional Chelish social order.
The last few decades speak of the interplay of Magnimar, Riddleport, and Korvosa. Sandpoint was founded about forty years ago as part of Magnimar's expansion.
Up next: One more!
Tobar is a native of Sandpoint who grew up in a blacksmithing family and joined the guards following the Late Unpleasantness. He's not exactly the sharpest tool in the box so, as a second son, the family was happy to let him serve the town and get away from the forges.
Tobar's player was already well familiar with the Sandpoint canon, having read the first issue of the Pathfinder comic and the section in the new Varisia player's guide. As such, I skipped over a lot of the basics.
I gave Tobar two handouts, one introducing the families of Sandpoint and another the various criminal elements in town.
All three of Sandpoint's mayors to this point have come from the Deverin Family, including the current one, Kendra Deverin. Most of the family's considerable wealth comes from land investments from the time of Sandpoint's founding.
Kendra is a well respected by the townsfolk. She leads with an even hand and a personal touch.
All of Sandpoint's families come from Magnimar, but the Kaijutsus were originally from much further afield: the distant lands beyond the Crown of the World. They're also fabulously wealthy, at least in part due to their ownership of the town's glassworks.
Lonjiku Kaijutsu is the family's patriach and an amazing businessman, but tales of his rages are legend among the community. He will complain endlessly of his eldest daughter, Ameiko, but most locals know better than to mention his now-deceased wife's half-elven son Tsuto.
Ameiko is a talented and beautiful woman: the owner of the Rusty Dragon, a retired adventurer, and an accomplished singer.
Owners of the town lumber mill, the Scarnettis are hard-line Chelish traditionalists. They're the family you deal with most as a guard, with Titus Scarnetti constantly complaining of one moral indecency or another.
Rumors among the guard say that Titus Scarnetti maintains his traditional bearing to hide some terrible secret. The least fanciful of these say he's begun working with the Sczarni.
Forty years ago, Ethram Valdemar led his family to help found Sandpoint. He still rules the family, although with less of an iron fist than in decades past. His son, Kaleb, still runs the families considerable operations back in Magnimar.
The Valdemars own the shipyard and are deeply connected with the local fishing industry. They have an uncomfortable alliance with the Scarnettis, who often use threat of lumber "shortages" to force the shipbuilders' hands.
The Fatman's Feedbag is a restaurant favored by those who like cheap food and lots of it. If Sherriff Hemlock is right about it's real owner, Jubrayl Vhiski, it's also the hub of local Sczarni activity and smuggling.
Smuggling aside, the guards end up down here at least several times a week to break up fights. Your talents at frightening even the most inebriated are often called into use here, for which you have the Sherriff's eternal gratitude.
Scattered gangs made up of native Varisians, the Sczarni have their finger in every criminal pie in Varisia. In Sandpoint, they seem to keep their attention focused on smuggling and gambling.
The Varisian community is divided on the Sczarni. Many Varisians hate the Sczarni for tarnishing their good name, but still close ranks around the Sczarni when the heat gets to be too much.
This dilapidated building hides an accomplished apothecary specializing in Varisian dyes and traditional herbal remedies. Although the Pillbug is at least partially Chelish, he's quite popular with the Varisian community, including Jubrayl Vhiski.
Although Titus Scarnetti wishes prostitution was illegal in Sandpoint, it isn't and the Pixie's Kitten is a testament to that. Although there isn't another brothel to compare it to in town, outsiders say that it's exceptionally clean and well-run.
It's something of an open secret in town that Sherriff Hemlock is seeing Kaye Tesarni, the brothel's owner. This leaves a lot of the guards in a strange position, where they're allowed to visit the brothel and often even get under-the-table discounts, but are expected to be on their best behavior.
The Rusty Dragon is Sandpoint's most popular inn for travelers, particularly explorers and sellswords. Ameiko Kaijutsu and her patrons are usually able to keep the peace, but a guardsman is often stationed here to relax and discourage vigilantes.
Unrelated to Tobar, there's one other change I'm planning on making. I don't really like that the runewell ritual and Karzoug's minions use the sihedron as their only symbol, rather than being tied to Karzoug or Shalast.
I plan to have Karzoug's minions each carry an adamantine coin with the greed rune on one side and the sihedron on the other. I've made up some little physical coins (out of layered paper and cardstock) to illustrate the concept.
As backstory, I'm planning that Karzoug transmuted them all out of one massive adamantine chunk back in the day, keeping them connected and allowing them to be used for scrying and communications (particularly if one has access to the largest remaining piece, now resting in Xin'Shalast).
For the victims, I'm thinking of still using the sihedron, justified as being a symbol there of dividing the person's drives into their seven pure essences. So, the greed runewell reawakening may not directly make the wrath runewell start up, but killing greedy wrathful people will power both.
Up next: Goblins!
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Burnt Offerings (Session 1):
The Festival Begins
Our story begins with the heroes enjoying the Swallowtail Festival. Well, at least mostly enjoying.
Tobar is the only uniformed guard in the square, with the others either relaxing or at the walls. He's spent most of his morning encouraging drunks to fight less and sing more.
Kriger is also on the job, accepting the residents' congratulations on the beautiful new cathedral while Father Zantus prepares for the ritual and his speech.
Even Fijit is working, trying to scare up some funds to pay down her tab at the Rusty Dragon. Unfortunately, her singing skills have abandoned her, sending those interested in song off to listen to the drunks.
Several games have been set out. From the classic drinking game and Sandpoint's own Devil's Step to the newer Goblin Slaying and an unnamed game involving stabbing an "ogre" scarecrow.
Above the sounds of the festival, Tobar hears horses whinnying from the direction of Goblin Squash Stables. He quickly advises Daviren Hosk about the noise, offering to take over running the game while Daviren investigates.
Kriger and Fijit get in line behind the children excited about throwing handaxes at "goblin heads" (roughly goblin head shaped melons carved with goblin names). One copper gets you three axes. You get any melons you damage, along with a tin Goblin Slayer badge if you destroy two.
Kriger does passably, damaging one melon despite being one of the clumsiest people in town, handing out the chunks of melon to the children in line.
Fijit, on the other hand, doesn't even have a copper. Kriger, always willing to help a guest and fellow traveler, covers her game. She destroys two melons with the aid of channeled magical energy and proudly pins her Goblin Slayer badge on her hat.
Kriger hears a strange counterpoint to the drunken songs nearby... "Goblins chew and goblins bite, goblins cut and goblins fight." He quickly rallies everyone near him over the age of ten to the defense of the town as three goblins emerge near the Goblin Slayer game.
Between Fijit's inspiring music, Kriger's seemingly limitless supply of Desna's grace, and Tobar's fearsome strength, they make quick work of the goblins... and the goblins on the other end of the square... and the goblins threatening Aldern Foxglove.
Tobar nearly feel twice, once early in the battle and once after being bitten repeatedly by the goblin dog. Kriger was able to keep the guard on his feet, however.
The priest did learn an important lesson about not channeling energy right next to an injured goblin, even though the goblin stood their mystified while Fijit corrected his oversight.
The goblins, for their part, were goblins. As Tobar cleaved through his comrades, one goblin dropped down to fingerpaint with the resulting gore. Another, too afraid to approach the giant man and too stupid to run, attempted to disarm him with its whip with about the effects you'd expect.
Aldern Foxglove, saved in the nick of time, wrapped Tobar in a massive hug, despite how the larger man was caked in goblin gore. He filled his saviors in on his background briefly, explaining how he's a nobleman from Magnimar and was in town to enjoy the festival and possibly recruit some workers to help repair his manor.
The fingerpainting goblin, as it turned out, was knocked unconscious by Kriger's starknife. The defenders of Sandpoint quickly gathered up the limp creature as they headed to the cathedral to make sure Tobar's goblin dog wounds weren't infected.
At the Cathedral
After having Father Zantus inspect Tobar's wounds, and suggest a bath with certain salts to clean the wound, the party settled in to interrogate their new captive. Conveniently, Tobar still needed some healing anyway, so Zantus's blessings restored the goblin to wakefulness as well.
Fijit, fluent in the meeping language of goblins, performed the interrogation. They quickly determined that the captured goblin was not the mastermind (their first clue was the fingerpainting in the middle of a fight).
After extensive, but relatively friendly, questioning, the goblin revealed that they raided the "big camp" to "keep the chief happy and keep the guy happy and keep the lady happy." It's descriptions weren't terribly clear, except that the guy and lady are longshanks and the lady is very scary and the guy thinks the lady is pretty despite her having a skinny head and hair.
When the goblin mentioned tunnels, everyone got very interested. As soon as the words "through the hot, fun, melty place" left its mouth, Tobar added "the Glassworks."
As the group prepared their investigation, Sherriff Hemlock arrived. The goblin attack had shaken him and, after thanking the trio for their service, explained he was heading to Magnimar for reinforcements.
He asked the group and Tobar in particular to stay visible in his absence, helping to keep everyone calm. Tobar had his own reservations, knowing he's not the best leader, but Kriger and Fijit rapidly agreed and pressured the guard to accept his new responsibilities.
Kriger also leaned on their new friend Aldern to head back to Magnimar and help. He was glad to do it, mentioning he could at least put in a good word with Justice Ironbriar. With that settled, and Kriger paternally suggesting Aldern hire some mercenaries for his safety, the Sherriff and the nobleman headed out.
Kaijutsu Family Matters
The three of them headed directly for the Glassworks, only to be stymied by a sign "Closed for the Festival, please come back tomorrow" and a simple lock. They determined that they'd try to get entrance by legal means first, heading to the Rusty Dragon.
On their way there, they ran into a cheering crowd and Daviren Hosk. Tobar handed over the copper from when he was running the game, earning a "You're a saint, Toby!" and offered his condolences on finding out the goblins had killed two of Hosk's horses.
Hosk pinned two of the leftover Goblin Slayer pins from his game to Tobar's guards' sash and Kriger's cloak, to the cheers of the crowd, then told Fijit "if you were two feet taller, nay, even a foot taller, and I were twenty years younger, I'd be on my knee asking you to marry me" and kissed her on the forehead.
Reveling in their new found herodom, the defenders made their way to the Rusty Dragon, receiving a cheer and a round of drinks immediately upon stepping through the door. Kriger turned down his drink with a "sorry, we're on duty," only to have the massive mug passed to Fijit.
Ameiko, unfortunately, couldn't offer more than Glassworks than that it was her father's Glassworks, certainly not hers. She also advised she could write a letter of recommendation, but it would hurt more than help.
Rather than digging more into uncomfortable family matters, they accepted Ameiko's offer of spicy food. As they were headed out, she also mentioned that Aldern had settled Fijit's tab and added "I hear wedding bells" like a child's rhyme under her breath.
The trio headed up to the bluff, discussing Old Light and how Tobar's glad he doesn't live so close to the ruins. Brodert Quink came up during the conversation, along with his mad theories. Fijit resolved to meet the sage as soon as they've taken care of the current crisis.
Their captive goblin still in tow, they advised the Kaijutsu's majordomo to have Lonjiku come outside, rather than letting the beast into the family's parlor. Kriger took the lead on the negotiations, speaking to Lonjiku as befits a man of his rank.
Lonjiku turned over the key once they promised to return it promptly to his majordomo.
The three of them made their way back to the Glassworks, finding the door ajar and hearing the sounds of breaking glass inside. Kriger ran to get backup, leaving Fijit and Tobar to watch the Glassworks.
Things went a little off the rails with interrogating the fingerpainting goblin and Tobar's player jumping straight to the Glassworks. I think it's going to work out, though.
Tobyn's grave has already been robbed and the corpse sent back to Thistletop. The party's probably in town for at least a couple days, so Nualia should have plenty of time for her ritual.
I'll loop back to the encounters that are supposed to occur before the Glassworks. In particular, they need to find out about Father Tobyn and I'll see if I can squeeze in Shayliss and the boar hunt. They already have Ameiko's relationship with her father figured out, so that's good.
The plan at this point is for Tsuto to have broken into the Glassworks while it was closed for the festival and using a threat of blackmail to arrange an ambush for his father. Tsuto is letting the goblins have run of the place while he waits for his father, hence the breaking glass.
For her part, Ameiko is planning to respond to her note tonight. Lonjiku is too proud to make a deal with his bastard son and has sent the guards in first, hoping Tsuto dies or nobody believes him. If the authorities don't take care of Tsuto, Lonjiku plans to at the designated meeting time (during the fireworks at nightfall).
Up next: Glassworks!
Another great campaign start. Thanks for sharing.
You never can know what directions a party may take. I look forward to the Glassworks post.
I use the "Crit is a Crit" house rule too. Except I don't allow Improved Crit as a Feat.
Another great campaign start.
People seem to like the house rules so far. The Max HP hasn't come up since they haven't leveled up yet, but the "Critical is a Critical" came up a couple times and the players loved it.
You never can know what directions a party may take. I look forward to the Glassworks post.
The group actually contacted me to reschedule so we can play earlier, which just sounds strange to say. Their quoted reason was "so we can watch you play goblins more."
Can't argue with that!
Burnt Offerings (Session 2):
While Kriger ran to get aid from the guards, Fijit scouted the interior of the Glassworks to find the source of the crashing. She moved through easily, not alerting the goblins, and locating the main workroom where they were held up.
Kriger returned with two guards (Krovik and Oran) who helped them follow Tobar's break-in plan. The mass of goblins were largely at the far end of the workroom, playing with molten glass, destroying things, and eating pickles.
A short argument ensued among the goblins trying to remember what they should do if "four guy longshanks and a lady shortshanks" came in. They had instructions for a guy longshanks and a lady longshanks, after all.
Eventually one went to ask the boss, his life almost cut short by Tobar's thrown spear. The battle was quickly joined, with two goblins killed, but Krovik and Oran swarmed and Krovik nearly unconcious.
The Prodigal Son
That's when Tsuto Kaijitsu made his way into the room. "Father, your timing is perfect as always... Ah, it seems I've mistaken you for someone else."
He wove in drunkenly, carrying a fine bottle and a glass. "A bottle of rice wine, imported at great expense over the Crown of the World," he lifted the bottle in acknowledgement, "and one glass. Classic Father."
Tsuto called back the goblins, who were just as happy playing with molten glass as trying to kill people. The party was willing to parlay, particularly Tobar, who considered it his duty to arrest (not necessarily kill) Tsuto.
His demand was simple: bring him his father and he'd leave in peace. Tobar, as acting sheriff, ordered Krovik to get Lonjiku Kaijutsu and Oran to get more guards. They chatted during the interim, with Kriger growing increasingly convinced that Tsuto's attack wasn't really about his father.
At the same time, their suspicions about Lonjiku were growing. Tsuto mentioned his mother's mysterious death during the Late Unpleasantness, his father's knowledge of the tunnels, and having sent a note to his father earlier.
Kriger tried to dig for more information about how Tsuto was planning to kill his father, ignoring Tsuto's objections that he just wanted to talk. But, the priest slowly realized that Tsuto's stonewalling had as much to do with delaying them as their questions had to do with keeping him there.
Fijit took matters into her own hands, sneaking under the table Tsuto was standing next to. She tangled his legs in her bolas, pushing at his shins in a vain attempt to knock him over. He tossed the bolas to the side and kicked her square in the chest, almost hard enough to break bones.
For a moment it looked like fighting was about to break out again, but the standoff rapidly dissolved back into conversation. Eventually, Krovik made it back with a note from Lonjiku for his son. "Rot in hell. You're no son of mine."
Tsuto took this with surprising aplomb, agreeing to let Tobar and the others escort him out of town. Kriger argued vehemently that they should try to arrest him, killing him if need be. Tobar wasn't willing to accept the risks, particularly to the men that had been put under his temporary supervision.
Past the Catacombs
On their way back out of town, with Tsuto and goblin mob in tow, they passed a side tunnel that had been bricked over. Kriger noticed Tsuto shying away from it and suggested they head down there.
"No, that's not the right direction." Tsuto implied, a little too strongly.
"Oh, really? Well, maybe we should explore."
"Ha, if you want. I'm going this way. I'm just glad that I'm not the one trapped in the godsforsaken town with that under it."
Seeing the cracks in Tsuto's cocky façade worried them more than anything else to this point and they vowed to investigate the tunnel further. Eventually, they reached the sea cave, dropping Tsuto and his goblins off at the beach.
When they made it back to the Glassworks, they rolled one of the massive marble tables on its side and used it to barricade off that section of the building. Tobar locked the building up, with the key Lonjiku had given them, and set a watch around the building.
With the Mayor
The Goblin Slayers made their way to the mayor's office to report to her about the proceedings. They briefly met Titus Scarnetti before annoying him by being waved into the mayor's office before him (one of the perks of being acting sheriff).
The mayor had an unfurled map of Sandpoint with pins representing goblin sightings and attacks. She'd already heard about the attack at the Glassworks, along with a number of minor incidents the party hadn't been involved in and some mysterious figures at the graveyard.
They brought her quickly up to speed and pitched their master plan: collapse the tunnels, particularly the scary one, using the fireworks that had been intended for the Swallowtail Festival.
She consented to allow the use of the fireworks under two conditions: that the tunnels are mapped first so they know what they're doing and that it's certain that collapsing the tunnels won't just make whatever is down there angry.
With that laid out, the party decided to visit Broderick Quink and asked the mayor to question Lonjiku Kaijutsu. It speaks ill of their opinion of Lonjiku that they asked the mayor if she was going alone and suggested she leave a note with the guards advising what to do if she doesn't return in a timely manner.
Fijit was faintly familiar with Quink's work, specifically his theories that ancient Thassilon operated under a different system of magic than modern wizards. She was actually quite excited to meet him, even though the others were a bit leery of the old man.
They checked in at the Curious Goblin and Quink's home before making their way to Old Light. He was there, as he often is, trying to make sense of the fallen stones at the base of the tower.
When asked about what might be under the town, and buttered up by Fijit, Broderick explained his theories about Old Light and the ancient border between Bakrakhan and Shalast.
He could only speculate on what was down the tunnel, perhaps an ancient war machine or a battery for mystical energy. He could, however, confirm the mayor's view that they shouldn't just collapse it without figuring out what they're collapsing.
Kriger began speculating that the woman Tsuto works for, briefly mentioned by their interrogated goblin, might have used the raid as a cover to break into the bricked-up tunnel.
Despite Quink's reservations, they convinced him to help with their "field research" the next morning. He couldn't offer much information on more recent history, however, so they decided to visit Ethrem Valdemar.
The Valdemar House
Even though the party interrupted the Valdemar family in the middle of dinner and the two old men exchanged verbal jabs, Ethrem proved to be an excellent source of town history... having lived through all of it.
He outlined how labor markets were tight a few decades ago, with many Varisian workers engaging in a secret project for the Sczarni. Word was that they were planning to tunnel into the garrison, but suddenly stopped at great expense.
He couldn't confirm whether the Kaijitsus were involved at all, however. He did add that he'd placed most of his mercenary guards at the town's disposal, which won him some points with the acting sheriff.
Back to the Mayor
With Broderick in tow, the party made their way back to town hall. The mayor was already back in her office.
They compared notes, finding that Lonjiku had nothing interesting to say. Note from Tsuto? Burned it. Goblins? Nothing to do with me. Tunnels? Never heard of them.
Convinced Lonjiku is lying, at least about the tunnels, the mayor is closing down the Glassworks as a crime scene and threat to public safety until further notice. The group has her permission to explore the tunnels in preparations for collapsing them.
A Sleepy Interlude
The three heroes went their separate ways for some well-deserved rest. Fijit stopped on the way to her room in the Rusty Dragon to talk with Ameiko about her brother.
Ameiko confirmed he was a sullen youth who hated his father and the town that respected him. She also mentioned that he "only cared if three people in town lived or died," with two of them being herself and Tobar.
Tsuto, as it turns out, always suspected Tobar was a bastard like him, as he looks nothing like his parents. That's about as close as he got to connecting to people in town, which is a sad statement all its own.
Ameiko eventually turned over the note left to her by Tsuto. Although she and the party made their way to Glassworks at midnight, her brother was nowhere to be found.
Sorry it's been so long since we've spoken, I intend to rectify that soon. Hopefully this letter finds you well and with a bit of time on your hand.
It turns out we have something of a problem. I know you've never agreed with my suspicions about Father, but I can prove he was involved in today's goblin attacks.
I don't want to take this to the sheriff because I know he'll side with Father. He has enough money to buy this little town ten times over and nobody brave enough to stand up to him. Except you. I hope.
If you can meet me at the Glassworks at midnight, I can explain everything. Go to the loading entrance. Knock twice, then three times, then once.
Please don't tell anyone about this.
All my love,
The situation in the Glassworks with a bit different since they'd gotten there before Tsuto could kill Lonjiku (and the workers were all out because of the festival). And Tsuto had reason to delay them and surrender, making sure Nualia gets back to Thistletop.
Overall, the players are going deep on the roleplaying and mystery aspects. Which is good, both because there's a lot of background that adds a lot to the adventure and because they'll need all their investigation skills in Skinsaw Murders.
I'm going to kick off next session with a bunch of handouts (I love handouts). Tobar, as acting sheriff, is going to get a rundown of guard activities following the attacks. This will have some hooks for the graveyard, reveal that some goblins came over the river, and make the guards seem actually useful.
Kriger, as a cleric of Desna, is going to have a prophetic dream of sorts. Since Father Tobyn is being burned in a rite to Lamashtu, I can pull out all the creepy stops. This will help foreshadow Nualia since the party didn't get Tsuto's handouts.
Also, during the night, Tsuto will have left another note in Ameiko's quarters.
Everyone hit level 2 after this session. I'm fairly sure everyone plans to get another level in their primary class.
Next time: The Catacombs of Wrath
Awesome so far, I like what you've done with the story! Excited to keep reading!
Glad you're enjoying it. We should have another session on Wednesday.
And a bit of a preview, I just sent Kriger's player his handout for next session.
It's less unpleasant than you expected. It hurts, certainly, but you're more worried about the nagging suspicion you're supposed to be somewhere else.
The naked woman chanting over the blaze is undoubtedly beautiful, even lit by the harsh light of your burning flesh. You can't bring yourself to meet her eyes, can't even admit she has a face, so you spend your time studying the vicious scars carved into her stomach.
You find yourself momentarily terrified she'll hate you because of your immobility or the smell of your burning flesh. But no, she's happy you're on fire. It's everything else about you she hates. It's every mistake you made, every decision except the last one, the one to burn. Perhaps now she'll finally forgive you.
You should have known better. She never takes half measures. She was brought to this world to purge the weak, the wretched, and the wicked. And who is weaker or more wretched than you?
Your arm burns.
It's less unpleasant than you expected. It hurts, certainly, but you're more worried about the effect not spreading further.
Why? One arm! One arm, slick with gore, every inch showing the essence of your true Mother! Why not more? Why must this beauty still knit to a hideous expanse of milky skin? Is the sacrifice unworthy of her? Is the voice in the catacombs playing a cruel prank? Does it not serve Mother at all? Did you anger her?
No! It's a sign! A success! A step towards perfection! More sacrifices! More fire to burn away impurity!
The half-elf makes his way into the chamber, the sight of your new arm driving the lovesickness from his eyes for a moment. Perhaps this is part of Mother's gift as well, a way for others to glimpse your true beauty.
Your head pounds.
It's less unpleasant than being on fire or whatever happened to your arm. It hurts, certainly, but you're more worried about writing down what you remember.
Desna often sends messages in dreams, although rarely ones so violent as this. She is the guardian of dreams as well as travelers, after all. But perhaps it was just the effects of Fijit's midnight expedition or an exhausting day.
But somehow... the way that Desna's grace embraces you ever tighter, surrounding you... It's hard to imagine she didn't have a hand in this.
Burnt Offerings (Session 3):
Kriger woke up with a pounding headache and a clutched dream journal page that... made a lot less sense now that he was reading it in daylight. But such is the way of dreams.
Meanwhile, Tobar was going over his first daily report as active sheriff. Unfortunately, there was a lot of news.
First off, congratulations on the promotion, acting sheriff!
Me and the boys thought you needed your rest after tearing goblins apart with your bare hands, getting promoted, and going out at midnight. I take full responsibility if there's anything in here that you needed to hear last night.
The mayor had us check out the areas around the goblin attacks on top of the double watch and regular patrols. Suffice it to say, we've got some very tired guards out there. I compiled the reports for you.
- The festival got back on track and Father Zantus was able to consecrate the new temple. The mayor wouldn't allow the fireworks to be set off for some reason, but people were too busy drinking to the Goblinslayers' honor that I'm not sure they even noticed.
- The Glassworks are still locked down on the mayor's orders. We haven't seen any sign of Master Kaijitsu, but the workers there looked ready to riot when we wouldn't let them in.
- Old Daviren Hosk has been over his stables three times, but can't find any sort of tunnel. He thinks the goblins just came in off the street. He lost two horses, but the horses killed half a dozen goblins, so we'll call that a win for the horses.
- We captured a goblin trying to float over the river on a log. There were almost a dozen logs scattered there, so we think some of them might have come that way. We left the goblin in a holding cell in case you three want to interrogate it.
- Vinder's general store looks like a stampede went through. Everything edible was eaten, along with most of the rest, some of that was thrown back up, and anything they couldn't swallow was broken. I haven't seen him this angry since he caught his daughter Katrine with that lout Benny Harker. He wants to talk to "the man in charge." If that's you, well, I'd make your peace with Desna before you head over.
- Lastly, we found some disturbing things in the graveyard. The caretaker Naffer Vosk is dead. It doesn't look like goblins; he was damn near cut in half. Looks like he ran into a sword almost the size of yours. A few of the graves were disturbed, but we didn't find any goblins. We're stretched pretty thin, so I asked a couple of Valdemar's guards to keep an eye on things until lunchtime.
Aside from Naffer and animals, we haven't found any casualties. Father Zantus is going to be earning his keep the next couple days, though; a lot of people got banged up.
Toby, having more on his plate than he could handle... and perhaps fearing for his own safety, sent a letter to the mayor asking her to talk to Ven Vinder.
On their way to fetch Broderick, Kriger mentions his dream to the others and shares his suspicions. He believes it's a message from Desna, but hasn't been able to discern its meaning. He's fairly certain the woman is Tsuto's mysterious master, but is trying to untangle the rest.
The party gathered together, along with Broderick Quint, passing through the barricaded doors in the Glassworks. Tobar advised the guards to give them two hours, then seal the place up behind them.
They began by thoroughly exploring the tunnels, finding a large chamber filled with bedding and recently emptied crates. Kriger grabbed a few vials that had been left, finding the residue in them radiated faint enchantment and divination magic.
They also found to the cliff below the graveyard and out to Junk Beach, although the latter was almost covered by garbage. Tobar briefly climbed up into the graveyard, but elected to head back down into the tunnels rather waste the scholar's time with more modern concerns.
Into the Catacombs
Finding the first side cavern, the party decided to investigate that first. Unfortunately, Toby's investigatory skills weren't quick enough to find the twisted creature inside the door before it stabbed him with its ranseur and started gnawing on his face.
Toby grew delirious with rage, slashing at the creature and missing repeatedly while his allies tried to position themselves to attack the creature. He was able to remain standing with Kriger's repeated healing, eventually landing a solid hit on the creature. Moments later, Fijit landed a killing blow with her tiny rapier.
"Yay! I killed it!" she cheered. Toby responded with a terrifying roar of rage, sending Fijit cowering. "You killed it! You killed it!"
Having collected his senses, Toby looked at her confused. "What are you talking about? Of course you killed it."
In the back of the cavern, they discovered a pile of tiny bone chips and cloth rendered down almost to individual threads by long abuse. Mixed in with the utterly destroyed refuse was a suit of surprisingly intact leather armor.
Kriger maintained that they should leave it there, fearing it to be cursed. On closer examination, however, Broderick identified a symbol stitched on the inside, over the heart, as the holy symbol of an empyreal lord worshipped in Magnimar. With that endorsement, Kriger brought the armor with him.
Toby, less cautious, grabbed the creature's ranseur as it dissolved into gel too red to be blood on the floor.
The explorers made their way to the right, finding themselves almost immediately in a dark shrine. The altar in one corner couldn't match their fear of the red marble double doors in the other corner, however.
They spent some time examining the doors, determining that they... not so much radiated as leaked incredibly powerful invocation magic. They also read the runes on the door, getting a crash course in the fractured nations of Thassilon from Quint.
With some help from Master Quint, who's been at this long enough to remember to bring tongs, they extracted a dose of water from the altar. Kriger stashed it carefully for later study.
They decided, perhaps wisely, to leave the doors well enough alone and find out what else was in the complex.
Exploring the Catacombs
The Goblinslayers found their way to a strangely preserved wooden platform overlooking a number of jail cells. As Tobar descended the rickety stairs to investigate, a gnarled hand snatched his foot from between the steps.
Despite the inauspicious start to the combat, with Tobar stumbling forward into a cell's bars, and the creatures taking cover under the steps, it was wrapped up fairly quickly. Tobar's greatsword made quick work of the creatures, with Kriger moving fast enough to loop around the far side and finish one off.
Slightly stung from the ambush, they advanced carefully into an ancient torture chamber. Kriger wracked his brain, remembering something about the ancient nation of Bakrakhan fielding fleshcrafted soldiers. Tobar scoffed at his shuddering companions... until they opened the door hiding a skeleton with tiny arms growing from its mouth and empty eye sockets.
Still cautious, and very confused by the room of covered pits, Tobar noticed the goblin mutant Korovus the moment before it attacked. With one mighty blow, he bisected it, leaving them to open the pits and wonder why there were all those zombies down there.
As an experiment, Tobar dropped in a rock enchanted with light, only to have it winged back at his head by the zombie, injuring him where Korovus could not.
The Meditation Chamber
Toby opened the door labeled "Meditation Chamber" in Thassilonian, finding objects floating in the center of a spherical room and black energy crackling over the walls. He then closed the door.
The party found a pool surrounded by skulls, carefully moving into the room, only noticing the demonic winged skull at the last moment. Toby lashed out at it with his new ranseur as it shrieked.
Unfortunately for the skull, everyone resisted its cry and it couldn't withstand the second blow from Tobar.
The thing's dismembered body served a scientific purpose, however, as they dropped one of its wings into the pool. They watched with some confusion as its blood was repeatedly cleared from the pool.
Fijit, being Fijit, decided to drink some of the water after the wing was removed. After she declared it "quite good!" Tobar followed suit, leaving Kriger and Broderick ready to perform healing at any moment.
As it turns out, that wasn't needed. Kriger still berated his companions for drinking strange water, particularly after they'd just dipped demonic flesh in it.
Past the Skull Pool, the explorers found a blocked staircase. With wind whispering through the rocks, they figured there must be some entrance from above. They built a fire below to make it visible, then made their way back out to the Glassworks.
With all that wandering around, it had been easily two hours, but they eventually persuaded the guards to help them move the table out of the way and let them into the Glassworks.
Knowing the general area they expected the stairs to be, they quickly narrowed down the house with a confused family standing outside. Kriger quickly located the smoke in the root cellar, digging enough to find fist-sized stones before burying it. Fijit, meanwhile, convinced the family they had a stinkbug infestation, causing the strange smell, but Kriger and Tobar were taking care of it.
The quartet made their way to the town hall, meeting a fuming Ven Vinder storming out. Fijit's prestidigitation chasing him with glowing butterflies didn't seem to improve his mood any.
They quickly found Ven's daughter Shayliss had stayed behind, apparently glad for the break from dealing with her father. Toby's smile at her was rewarded with a request to "come over and help with a problem they're having at the general store" when he gets the chance.
Fijit elbowed him before he could even talk and shouted "Toby will help!"
He smiled more broadly, particularly at the way Shayliss leaned forward while making the request, and resolved to help her out as soon as he has a spare moment. Kriger just shook his head, adding "this is what you get for making an eighteen year old acting sheriff."
With Tobar's lovelife having taken a turn for the better, they moved into the mayor's office to plan their next step.
Although they still weren't certain what was behind the marble doors, they were certain that they didn't want it falling into the hands of Tsuto's mysterious master. They suggested collapsing the tunnel leading into the Thassilonian ruins, rather than the smuggling tunnels as a whole, making certain it's sealed off.
They also agreed to keep the secondary entrance, buried beneath a house near the garrison, secret between the five of them. It would be all too easy for someone who knew that route to sneak in.
Although Broderick was saddened he didn't get to see what was beyond the double doors, he agreed with their assessment. He wasn't going to go down there himself, after all, and it would be possible to get back down there if necessary.
With Broderick and the Goblinslayers' approval, the mayor agreed to release the Swallowtail Festival fireworks to them. The explosives should be sufficient to take out the tunnel leading to the catacombs, while the other entrances can be bricked off. Kendra agreed to manage the contracting process for that.
The mysterious liquid that's being smuggled through town is Midnight Milk. Enchantment and Divination seemed like a good combination for dreaming of distant places.
I obviously added some tunnels. Erylium's familiar flying between the rocks struck me as weird, so I wanted some more there. And I wanted some evidence of actual smuggling, so the Midnight Milk seemed like a good fit.
Tobar's player pointed out that the ranseur is a reach weapon and can't be used while adjacent. I'm not really sure how that's supposed to play out with their ranseur and bite full attack.
I added a suit of +1 leather armor (with some hidden goodies) to the first sinspawn fight to get the party caught up for not killing Tsuto. It's holy to Ylimancha, so anyone says a short prayer to her daily will also be granted a +1 enhancement bonus to reflex saves while wearing it, mostly for flavor. History-wise, it was left there by one of the Sczarni the sinspawn killed while they were excavating the tunnels.
The zombie critting Tobar with a rock after he'd just critted Korovus was poetic. It was widely agreed to be the high point of the night.
The party never did fight Erylium, but they did kill her sinspawn and she suspects they'll be back. When she realizes her sentries are dead, she'll reset the front guard (but not make more once she realizes the well is low) and send her familiar patrolling. If it finds the party in sneaking back in, she'll lead a counterattack.
If she feels she's under siege, Erylium might have sinspawn kidnap some residents and expose them to the Waters of Lamashtu in an attempt to gather an army. She'll also do her best to contact Nualia at Thistletop.
Overall the session was very combat heavy. This was sped along greatly by predrawing the combat areas maps. I usually use Gaming Paper rolls, but went to singles this time. I drew out the combat areas one to a sheet. Sadly, I didn't get to use my sweet Lamashtu shrine drawing.
Next time: Goblins, Graves, Zantus, and Vinder
Burnt Offerings (Session 4):
Meeting with Shayliss
Making their way out of the mayor's office, the Goblinslayers ran back into Shayliss Vinder. She was quite insistent that Toby should help her with a giant rat issue in the general store's basement.
He eventually rebuffed her, in part because he was filthy and in part because he didn't want to spend any more time underground after those tunnels. Kriger and Fijit, of course, roundly mocked him for this after Shayliss left.
Eventually, after everyone had bathed, they pressured him into visiting the general store. There, he briefly met Katrine and made his way to visit Shayliss in the basement.
Suffice it to say that one thing very rapidly lead to another and, quite soon, Ven Vinder was downstairs yelling about his daughter's honor. Toby decided it wasn't appropriate to threaten an upstanding citizen or, frankly, to threaten anyone while he's naked.
Instead he argued with the older man until he saw an opening. "At least I'm not Benny Harker." This, quite unexpectedly, brought the large man to his knees weeping about his failures as a father.
Toby took that as his chance to leave, after a quick exchange with Shayliss about how she should come to his place next time.
While Toby was busy killing rats, Kriger and Fijit went over events with Father Zantus. He revealed he'd been telling people that the Mayor requested the fireworks not be set off because they'd attract further goblins. Kriger and Fijit decided to make that the official party line.
Once Toby was able to join them, the three made their way to the vandalized graves. Four graves had been disturbed and the mausoleum of Father Tobyn opened.
Tobar quickly noticed a pattern in the graves. A bully he'd grown up around who took it out on anyone different, along with the bully's brother, his girlfriend, and his chief minion. They'd all died during the Late Unpleasantness or slightly afterwards.
They made their way to Tobyn's mausoleum, finding four piles of bones and, perhaps more disturbingly, messages written on the walls in Abyssal. With the help of Fijit's magic, they were able to discern the messages. "Hail Lamashtu," "Hail the Mother of Monsters," and simply "Burn."
The moment they set foot into the tomb, the skeletons lept to their feet and attacked the party. Fighting in close quarters and with their best weapons weak against skeletons, the three of them had a hard time of it.
Eventually a combination of Tobar's raw strength, Kriger's holy energy, and Fijit's quick thinking (switching to her bolas) returned the skeletons to endless rest. They resolved to rebury the skeletons and have the tomb cleansed.
But before then, the desecrated symbol of Desna on Tobyn's crypt drew their attention. Tobar slid the lid from over it, finding it empty except for another bloody symbol of Lamashtu and the words "Burnt Offerings."
They moved the skeletons back to their respective places, advised the guards to keep a close eye on the cemetery, and returned to speak to Father Zantus. While offering him some healing, he advised them he'd be reconsecrating the mausoleum tomorrow.
With night falling, the party touched base with the mayor and verified the fireworks had been delivered to Junk Beach. They had a pleasant dinner and made their way down to the fields of offal.
Armed with four sacks of fireworks and two wheelbarrows, they hauled fireworks to the intersection of tunnels, hoping to seal off the Catacombs from the surface entirely.
Fijit piped up as they dropped off the first sacks of fireworks. "Hey, birds don't usually nest underground, do they?"
Kriger glanced up. "No... also, I saw that exact bird back on Junk Beach."
Tobar, eager to add his two coppers, threw in "I have no idea what you're talking about, but let's hurry."
Fijit took a moment instead to call on the power of her gnomish blood and chat with the bird. It advised her that it was looking for people and that they were, in fact, people. It then fluttered off deeper into the tunnel.
Now convinced the bird was a sentry, they rushed back to the surface, grabbing the remaining fireworks and headed back to the depths. By the time they returned, however, it was obvious one of the fireworks sacks had been moved, perhaps to create a hiding place.
A voice shrieked at them. Despite Fijit translating magically, there was little they could do in response to "Who dares disturb my lair?"
Giving up on diplomacy, Fijit fired a single flaming arrow into the undisturbed sack of fireworks. A moment later, the sinspawn rushed from its hiding place behind the other sack and bit her, sending her into paroxysms of rage.
Continuing with her own battleplan, the voice cast a spell, summoning two hyenas charred to the color of ash directly behind the party. With that, her invisibility fell, revealing a tiny demonic creature.
More concerned with the fact that four sacks of fireworks were about to go off in a very confined space, Tobar grabbed Fijit and ran. The hyena behind him caught his leg, but wasn't able to trip him.
Kriger, following suit, darted past the hyenas and sinspawn with all the speed and grace Desna could grant him. Thankfully, Tobar's sudden flight had distracted them enough that he was able to slip away as well.
Not daring to look back, the party fled from the collapsing tunnel, followed into the cool night air by a plume of dust.
After a good rest, the party examined the aftermath of their explosion last night. Thankfully, no homes had been damaged, although a street had collapsed into a sinkhole.
In the morning, Fijit got another note from Ameiko that Tsuto had left for her.
Sorry I wasn't able to make our meeting last night. Father sent the guards after me rather than man up and take responsibility.
Luckily Tobar was with them and proved to be reasonable. I can't believe he's a guard now, working for this wretched town. But I suppose Sandpoint's not going to get reasonable guards any other way.
I saw Kriger too, Zantus's disciple. I haven't seen him since I was mooning after Nualia at the chapel. It brought back memories, albeit not entirely pleasant ones. I like to think I've grown more assertive since then.
I'll be blunt; the situation in Sandpoint is going to get worse before it gets better. I fear for your safety if you stay there.
I know we haven't always seen eye-to-eye, especially about Father, but I beg you to take a trip down to Magnimar for the next few weeks. Leave notice at the Aquaretum and I'll find you.
All my love,
Fijit reassured Ameiko that the worst should be over with the tunnels collapsed. The group briefly discussed laying an ambush for Tsuto, but realized it might take weeks to spring.
They interrogated the goblin captive found by the guards, discovering that it belonged to a different tribe (the Birdcrunchers rather than Thistletop). Other than that, it was almost entirely unhelpful, so Kriger praised the more helpful Thistletop goblin and smuggled it several pickles.
Toby spent the rest of the day catching up on guard work, rearranging the guards so that they weren't all working double shifts. The others watched Zantus reconsecrate the mausoleum.
Discussing last night's events with Zantus, they agreed to have the collapsed tunnel consecrated as well, hopefully serving as a barrier against demonic influence. He will begin that tomorrow, with the whole process taking several days.
With everything back in order, they counted their preparations for Sheriff Hemlock's return in order.
The players appreciated the "Burnt Offerings" name drop in the coffin. They didn't, however, make the connection between Tobyn's body and Kriger's dream.
The fight with Erylium turned out awesome. Kriger was so sure they were all going to die, but the trip attempts landed in their favor. In the finest cinematic tradition, she's going to have to show back up with a mangled leg or wing.
Following this session, all three PCs are third level. They've all taken another level in their starting class. I allowed Toby to retroactively take the Two-Handed Fighter archetype.
Next time: Thistle and Hemlock
Burnt Offerings (Session 5)
Following their first uneventful day since the Swallowtail Festival, the protectors of Sandpoint took a well-deserved rest. Alas, it wasn't to last.
Kriger woke in the night, pulled out of sleep by several loud thumps in the library. Worried for Father Zantus, who had been up late studying consecration rituals for their attempts to seal the tunnels against demonic incursion, Kriger made his way downstairs.
Father Zantus was gone, his cameo of Nualia still lying next to the book he was studying, and his chair knocked to one side. Kriger quickly found the side door to the cathedral ajar, with flecks of blood and strands of grey hair low on the doorframe.
As Kriger circled the cathedral, looking for any sign of the father. Instead, he found the two guards they'd posted at the graveyard... both shot with black-fletched arrows, one bleeding out and the other already dead. Stifling a curse, he called on Desna to heal the bleeding guardsman.
Unfortunately, the guard couldn't provide more information than the obvious. He was standing watch with his companion, only to see him dropped with a single arrow from the darkness. A moment later, he was unconscious as well.
Alerted by the guards, Tobar and Fijit reached the scene quickly. After using Kriger's magic to illuminate the graveyard, Tobar was able to find two sets of tracks, both quite heavy and headed back towards the tunnels under Sandpoint.
Leaving the guards to bolster town's defenses, they rushed into the intact stretches of tunnels, eventually making their way to the beach cave where the goblins had originally entered to invade Sandpoint. From there, they followed the tracks down the road for several hours, then into Thistlewood itself.
Making their way through a maze of trees and falling leaves, they came to a suspiciously flat spot. Tobar poked it with his sword, only to discover it was a massive spider web covered in leaves.
The web's resident, an eight-legged beast the size of a horse, reached out towards its new prey. Tobar wanted nothing to do with that, quickly hacking off several of the thing's legs and shaking the web violently with their struggle... which is around when Fijit noticed the bursting egg sacs.
Aided by a scroll found in the Thassilonian ruins beneath Sandpoint, Fijit rolled a ball of flame into the webbing, rapidly spreading an inferno through the webs and leaves. Within moments, the webs had burnt off and the spider's young with them, Tobar forced the thing back into its pit, letting Fijit's flame finish the job.
Tobar was the only one who suffered from the spider's venom, his muscles burning as his strength reduced from nearly superhuman to only amazing.
After the fire subsided, Tobar crawled into the thing's nest, poking around for valuables left by its old prey. He came back out with a well-made bastard sword and a hip flask containing a (now quite hot) liquid that Kriger determined radiated conjurative magics.
The tracks came to a sudden end, stopping at a blank wall of thistles. Tobar applied his sword to the problem quickly, snickersnacking through sticks woven with thistles.
The path of two longshanks through the maze, one carrying an unconscious priest, was quite easy to follow. But, upon discovering a chamber with a pit, they had to question what was down there. Kriger enchanted a stone to glow and tossed it into the pit.
The resulting roar sent Tobar running into the thistle maze and stirred the nearby goblin dogs into a frenzy of yipping. Fijit, calling on her race's nearly forgotten ties to the First World, spoke with the "dogs." They were confused at first, but promised to bring Gogmurt.
The dogs came in first, followed by goblins from down another tunnel, urged forward by Gogmurt. The adventurers had things largely under control, with Fijit and Kriger holding off the dogs and Kriger single-handledly cutting through the Birdcrunchers.
Then Gogmurt entered the scene, sending things on a dramatic turn for the worst. He appeared through the brambles, slashing at Tobar with his sword of flames. Meanwhile, his cougar surprised Fijit, tearing her leg out from under her and pinning her to the ground.
Fighting was tense, even after Tobar managed the kill Gogmurt as the druid retreated into the brambles. The cat continued to occupy the rest of the party, however, knocking down Kriger after Fijit escaped, leaving them both badly bloodied. Eventually, Fijit, bolstered by Kriger's magic, was able to finish off the cougar.
"I killed the cougar!" she exclaimed. "I'd get you a cougarslayer pin if I had one," Kriger agreed. Fijit decided to one-up the pin idea by pulling the cougar's front teeth to make a necklace.
With Gogmurt's body looted of potions, Fijit-sized leather armor, and a wand, the rest of the corpses were pushed into the pit, greeted by roars of approval.
Battle at the Bridge
Having defeated the maze's guardians, the trio found their way to the bridge to Thistletop. A well-thrown light stone illuminated the far side, revealing the front door to a small keep... along with several goblin commandos and their mounts hiding in the thistles.
Tobar elected to go first alone, uncertain the bridge would hold more weight. When he made it to halfway through, one of the commandos darted out to slash through the bridge's support rope.
Making it to the far side in time, Toby engaged with the commandos as they sliced at the rope. Kriger, relying on Desna's blessing, grabbed Fijit and made it way across the bridge just as it fell sideways.
With everyone on the far side, battle was quickly joined with the commandos, their mounts, and archers from a nearby tower. Thanks to Tobar's strength with the blade, supported by Fijit's songs and Kriger's blessings, they made quick work of the goblins.
Seeing reinforcements appear on the tower, our heroes pushed their way through the main doors of Thistletop.
Siege of Thistletop
Tobar immediately turned around, grabbing the metal bar intended for securing the door they just entered through and twisting it through the door so no goblin could possibly open it.
The group positioned themselves, with Tobar bottlenecking the two doors he hear preparations through and the others hanging back near the secured door. However, there were half a dozen doors in the room, leaving them unable to secure or even watch them all.
Goblin dogs poured from one door in front of Kriger, driven and ridden by commandos. From the other door came more goblin elites along with the chieftain and his favored warsinger.
They joined the fight, only to find themselves pinched between that wave and a group of goblins coming down the far tower, reeking of pickles brine. Kriger, rapidly exhausting his stores of healing, was forced to join the battle near Toby to keep the warrior standing.
This left Fijit standing alone against the pickle thieves and the warchanter. A lucky whip strike later and she was standing alone against them with her rapier lying on the ground several feet away.
Fijit attempted repeatedly to activate Gogmurt's wand, only succeeding in setting the wand on fire several times. Alas, she was not able to repeat her performance with the scroll earlier. Eventually the scorched wand ended up at the warchanter's feet with her rapier.
The battle seemed to go on forever, Tobar growing steadily more exhausted, only held together by Kriger's rapidly fading magic. Both Fijit and the warchanter found themselves without inspiring songs and the battle descended into a quagmire.
Eventually, however, attrition was on the heroes' side, with Ripnugget's mount cut out from under him and much of the Thistletop tribe dead around them. When Ripnugget, bloodied and defeated, turned to flee, Tobar cut him down.
With their chieftain dead and morale broken, the rest of the goblins fled. The party gave only the barest feints at chasing them, pounding the daggers from Ripnugget's harpy trophy in to secure the door.
Locking themselves into the entry chamber to Ripnugget's throne room, they repurposed half a dozen fallen dogslicers to further secure the doors. With doors sealed and watches set, they set to rest, hoping that they could restore themselves before digging further into Thistletop.
Tsuto and Bruthzamus were the stars of that buddy-cop movie, with the bugbear killing the guards and Tsuto sneaking into the Cathedral and absconding with his lover's adoptive father.
Zantus is in a pretty bad way right now, being beaten to hell and held captive by his daughter in preparation for ritual sacrifice. He's convinced himself that she's a demon of Lamashtu that's taken his daughter's form to torment him, which is the only way he's clinging to sanity.
The spider was an addition, just something to remind people that the wilderness is dangerous. Fijit enjoyed the hell out of that flaming sphere, though, so totally worth it. In retrospect, it was also good to introduce ability damage before the shadow fight.
I ruled the bridge was still in weight-bearing mode because the party kept pretty close to Tsuto and Bruthzamus.
Holy hell the big battle at the end was a slog. I'd like to blame it on all the goblins showing up, but it really had more to do with Tobar's player not rolling over a five to hit. Even when Ripnugget fled, he only hit because I gave advantage for the description of pure rage he was feeling.
The party has actually reached enough XP to hit level 4, but we're putting off leveling until they get back to somewhere they can rest and train for a while.
I haven't decided how the denizens of the lower levels are going to respond. Bruthzamus definitely heard that, but he just ran carrying an old man for several hours, so I think he'll send up one of the brides to check it out.
I've been GMing for just shy of twenty years now and this is literally the first time I've seen a party actually spike a door shut. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy in an old school sort of way.
Next Time: The Prodigal Daughter
Burnt Offerings (Session 6 – Finale)
Bumps in the Night
Secure behind a spiked door, the party settled down to rest. Even given the circumstances, their sleep was oft interrupted.
First, a goblin made her way up to the killing floor, exclaiming "Ripnugget is dead! Ripnugget is de... Bruthzamus is new chief! Yay!"
Although Kriger and Fijit argued with her through the door that, no, Tobar killed Ripnugget and is the new chief, she would have none of it. Eventually, after pulling ineffectually at the door to the western tower, she went back downstairs to give her husband the good news.
He moved silently through the first floor later, releasing the goblins "trapped" in the western tower, leaving one to stand watch, but bringing the other downstairs to entertain him and his wives.
With the Thistletop goblins all but exterminated, the (aptly named) Goblinslayers took the opportunity to explore the keep. They encountered little resistance, especially with Ripnugget's ring of keys.
Eventually, after finding Ripnugget's secret sea chest and putting down the mad horse in the practice yard, they decided that they should head down one set of stairs.
They headed to the entryway, now an abattoir for the Thistletop tribe, sending the guard Bruthzamus had left shooting down the stairs. Kriger suspected he could catch him, being far faster, but the group decided to avoid any ambush and head down the other stairs in the far corner of the keep.
At the bottom of the stairs, they encountered a human-sized meeting room and a map of the raid on Sandpoint. Most interesting, perhaps, was the reference to Sinspawn coming from the Catacombs beneath town.
In the far corner of the room, they could hear faint speech... perhaps spellcasting. When the speech stopped, Toby battered his way into the alchemical laboratory. Whoever had been speaking was nowhere to be seen.
With a quick search among the bubbling fluids, Kriger located a secret door, still slightly ajar. The trio rushed down with Tobar in the lead, only stopping when they realized the stairs were coated with a thick layer of grease.
Sliding down the stairs on cougar pelts Tobar'd looted from the throne room, Tobar slammed noisily into the wall., but faired better than Kriger, who ended up thumping down the stairs two or three at a time.
With that obstacle surpassed, they cautiously explored a room endlessly scratched and defaced. Through the door, Tobar passed between paired statues of Karzoug.
When the portcullis slammed down on each side of him, he knew he was in for a bad time.
The Prodigal Daughter
The statues of Karzoug slashed at Tobar with their halberds and he retured the attacks in kind, sundering one of their weapons.
However, taking advantage of the traps distraction, a new figure appeared from down the hall. Kriger and Tobar quickly recognized Nualia, Father Zantus's adopted daughter... long thought dead.
They did not, however, recognize the loping hyena thing following her. It's howl tore into Toby's mind, sending him into a panic. While he remained corned by the portcullis, he managed to break the other halberd and hide in a statue's niche to avoid the pit.
Then, he was off like a shot... leaving Fijit and Kriger to face Nualia and the hound alone.
Backing themselves against the greased stairs, Fijit and Kriger found themselves quickly outmatched... and Fijit couldn't tumble up the stairs, for fear of abandoning Kriger.
The two of them relied on Kriger's healing, but it couldn't outpace Nualia and the hound, only delaying the inevitable. The battle became even more lopsided as the young woman they heard chanting earlier began firing bolts of magical energy at Kriger from her wand.
Thankfully for our heroes, Tobar chose this point to come to his senses. He grabbed the two fiercest bubbling mixtures from the lab (where he'd fled to cower) and hurled them from the top of the steps.
With reinforcements on the way, Fijit withdrew to the top of the steps... only to realize the hound could walk on air. The two of them locked in vicious, if onesided, battle.
Both sides attempted to tilt the battlefield in their favor, with Kriger consecrating the ground and Nualia conjuring a cloud of mists.
However, the mists were not enough to cover her intended escape as Tobar charged her. With sweeping blows, he hammered on Nualia while knocking her wizard ally unconscious.
In the lower battle, Tobar quickly overwhelmed Nualia. However, the hound did the same to Fijit, giving her only enough time to warn everyone that reinforcements were coming from upstairs.
Tsuto Kaijitsu and a massive goblinoid they assumed was Bruthzamus made their appearances at the top of the stairs, moments before Fijit went unconscious.
Tobar shouted "we have Nualia!" which stopped Tsuto in his tracks. Tsuto, at least, knew Tobar wasn't about to lie.
Bruthzamus grabbed Fijit while Tsuto launched into negotiations. "Well, we have the gnome. Let's just be reasonable people about this. Surely we can arrange an exchange."
The terms were quickly agreed to, with Kriger bringing Nualia upstairs. He carefully pocketed her Sihedron medallion and kicked away her weapons before bringing her up to make the trade.
Kriger healed Fijit while Tsuto fed Nualia a potion, getting her back on her feet to heal herself.
Tsuto offered to lead them safely out of Thistletop, but the newly restored Fijit had other ideas. "Do you have Father Zantus?"
Tsuto laughed, "yes, he's in our palatial guest rooms."
Kriger took the bait with "you have palatial guest rooms?" and Tsuto shut him down with "no, we have stinking dungeon cells, which is better than he deserves."
Fijit, less amused than Tsuto and less honorable than Tobar, took the opportunity to launch an arrow into Nualia. Nualia, although obviously pained, snarled "I've done worse to myself on a dare, little one" and gave her a broad grimace.
And the battle was joined again.
With the groups still interspersed, Nualia was able to slip away to look for her weapons, abandoning Tsuto and Bruthzamus to their fates. With the deal broken and Nualia attacked, Tsuto laid into Tobar in a berserk frenzy.
Quickly enough, however, Tobar was able to bring the half-elf and the bugbear down. Meanwhile, however, the newly healed Nualia was no where to be found.
Relying on Tobar for tracking, the party made their way deeper into the dungeons below Thistletop and followed Nualia into the best preserved Thassilonian section.
They were thrown off the trail by the massive pile of gold coins, using Kriger's will and Fijit's knowledge of illusions to see the true stone pillar and the two coin slots in it. They carefully dropped a gold coin in each at the same moment, causing the pile to roll out into an arch.
Making their way into the long-sealed chamber, they realized Nualia hadn't gone this way... and that the rune-covered door to the south was held with more powerful magic than any of them could muster.
Backtracking, they found Nualia's tracks again, heading past a set of doors uncomfortably like the ones they'd avoided below Sandpoint. Deciding this needed to end here, they threw open the doors, finding Nualia standing in the center of a crypt.
Tobar rushed forward, impaling her before she could even get in a word edgewise. She slumped to her knees, blood pouring onto the floor.
As the three gathered, they sensed a sudden chill, sapping their life forces. Their own shadows unfolded into creatures of pure darkness with glowing pinpricks for eyes.
As one, the Goblinslayers decided it was time to get the hell out of the crypt. Tobar, resolved to finish the job first, decapitated the kneeling Nualia and passed his sword through the nearest shadow harmlessly. Kriger shouted about the area he'd consecrated, grabbing Fijit and running back towards the stairs.
Tobar got to watch one of the shadows plunge its talons into Nualia's now headless corpse, jerking it up, then separating her headless shade from her body. With that, he too fled.
The shadows followed them, passing through walls and lashing out at Tobar as he ran. Kriger was fast enough to get to the consecrated area out of reach of the shadows. Tobar, on the other hand, was severely weakened by the experience.
The trio settled in to discuss their next course of action, making sure the corpses were within the consecrated area and settling in for a few hours to see if the shadows would leave. Although it was hard to say for sure, with their ability to walk through walls, the shadows eventually seemed to lose interest in difficult prey.
Having only one piece of unfinished business in Thistletop, they quickly made their way upstairs, reasoning that passing through the well-lit practice yard would help them shake the shadows, and back down the alternate entrance to the dungeon.
There, they found Bruthzamus's goblin brides wailing and crying. With fast talking from Fijit and Kriger, they convinced the wives that Tobar became the new chief by killing Ripnugget and Bruthzamus and that they were all his wives now.
Apparently that worked with goblin logic, because they quickly pushed in around their new husband. With some gentle prodding from Kriger, they quickly revealed where the longshanks prisoner was being held.
But first, they had one last challenge: a furious Orik. He confronted them, demanding recompense for their stabbing his love and letting her bleed out on the floor. He demanded their help paying for her resurrection, eventually being talked down stage-by-stage to their help getting him out alive and five gold pieces.
In the cells, they quickly found Father Zantus. Even in his weakened state, Tobar was able to shatter the cell's rusty hinges.
With a bit of healing, Father Zantus awakened. "I've... had the most terrible dream."
"About fire?" Kriger asked, remembering his own dream.
"No, about Nualia. She was back... alive, but terribly changed."
Kriger's face fell a bit. "Let's talk about that when we get home."
In a moment's silent agreement, they decided never to tell him the truth about his adopted daughter's fall from grace.
Having Lyrie retreat and grease the stairs also worked well, letting her join in on a fight where she could be useful, rather than just get slaughtered. She still got knocked out with two cleaves, but got some damage in first.
The hostage standoff couldn't have turned out better if I planned it. For a second, I thought they might leave with Tsuto, but Father Zantus's fate was too uncertain for them to allow it.
So, shadows shouldn't be barred by consecrate and they shouldn't have been able to turn Nualia into a shadow after she died, but both got through under the Rule of Cool.
Also, now I get a headless Nualia shadow to play with. That might be a sidetrek in the making, between her and the rest of the shadows and her yeth hounds. The party actually skipped a lot of Thistletop (basically the entire first floor of the dungeon and everything behind the pile of coins), so there's still lots to play with.
Everyone's 5th level now, still completely in their primary classes.
I let the players know they have a while in-game before the next installment, so they're heading to Magnimar for some sight-seeing and selling loot.
Next time: To Magnimar! And Shopping! And the Skinsaw Murders!
Burnt Offerings - Skinsaw Murders Interlude
The Goblinslayers met with Sheriff Hemlock, who'd returned while they were rescuing Father Zantus from Thistletop. They explained almost everything of what happened.
The sheriff, for his part, informed them that he was only able to get the squad of guards because Aldern Foxglove pulled some strings with a Justice Ironbriar. He also brought a note back from Aldern addressed to Fijit personally.
The Triodea is holding its yearly production of "Upon a Serpent's Grave" in two week's time. It's always a treat.
Unfortunately, I'll be out of town, overseeing repairs on the manor. I thought that, as a student of the arts, you might want to attend.
If you can make it to Magnimar on Lamashan 16th, I've added your name to the box. You should be able to pick up the tickets at the front desk.
I regret I won't be able to e-s-c-o-r-t-y-o-u (editor's note: this was struck through in the original) attend, but I hope you're able to make it.
With a date set, they stayed in Sandpoint for a week to get their strenth back and digest what all had happened since the Swallowtail festival. Toby gladly handed the reins of power back to Sheriff Hemlock, while Kriger worked to nurse Father Zantus and his companions back to health.
Kriger also took some time out to discuss the Sihedron medallion he'd grabbed from Nualia with Master Quint. The sage was able to advise him of it's meaning, but not its magical function.
Quint was able to refer the Wanderer to another sage, however, who might know: Sheila Heidmarch, the Pathfinder Venture Captain in Magnimar. Kriger agreed they'd drop by while they were in town.
The day before their departure to Magnimar, Tobar received a note proclaiming to be from Titus Scarnetti. Resigned to conflict, he was pleasantly surprised when he opened the letter.
I was speaking to the Sherriff earlier today and he mentioned that you might be travelling to Magnimar. Although he and I don't always see things the same way, we both greatly appreciate your efforts to restore order following the Swallowtail Festival.
If you should need lodging or anything else when you are in Magnimar, please present the enclosed letter to my cousin Gradon. You'll be able to find him in the Scarnetti Manor in the Alabaster District.
The travelers bearing this letter – Tobar Smith, Fijit Frothlethimble, and Kriger Wanderer – come with my highest recommendation as individuals of character. I, and all the relations here in Sandpoint, would be most pleased if you could extend them our family's courtesy while they stay in Magnimar.
Yours in blood,
Thus, the Goblinslayers made their way to Magnimar and met with Gradon Scarnetti. He was suitably impressed by his cousin's uncharacteristic endorsement and agreed to have the party stay in the manor for as long as they're in Magnimar. He also offered use of the family's carriages and household staff.
Shopping, Shopping, Shopping!
At the manor staff's suggestion, the party spent most of the next two days at the Bazaar of Sails. They sold off much of what they'd found in the Catacombs of Wrath and Thistletop, keeping their eyes open for good deals as they did.
Tobar was the biggest spender, purchasing a great sword forged before the Hold of Belkzan was overrun by orcs and having a suit of high quality banded mail resized to fit him.
Kriger upgraded his armor as well, along with purchasing a shield that he promptly had etched with the stag of Desna.
Fijit purchased a bow from the same tent where Tobar found his great sword and more alchemist's fire than anyone should allow a gnome. She also took a moment aside to have her cougar teeth, harvested from Gogmurt's animal companion, set into a brooch... to secure the cloak she took from Gogmurt's body.
Near the center of the Bazzar of Sails, the trio found a tent that looked as though it had not been moved for ages. The inside of the tent was embroidered with scenes from the Harrow while an aged Varisian woman sat behind a table covered with odds and ends.
Fijit and Kriger spoke to her in her native tongue. She explained that she mostly engaged in trading, helping the fates of items and individual to intertwine as they should.
Kriger traded his sacred armor of Ylimancha for something dearer to his goddess's heart: an enchanted silver starknife. Fijit traded Ripnugget's holy symbol for an ointment that could cure poisons and Gogmurt's burning wand for a pouch of gold.
Kriger asked the old woman about the once-glowing sword they found on the twisted goblin Korovus. She advised him that he would do better to throw it into the ocean, but that there was three people who might be interested in it.
He asked if Sheila Heidmarch was one and the old woman nodded. They resolved to visit Heidmarch manor the next day.
Finding the Path
Their resolution to meet with the Heidmarch's couldn't resist the pull of the Lord Mayor's Menagerie, however. After seeing the metallic spider of Numeria, the eyeless ruby-eyed basilisk, and the menagerie's civilized ape, they tore themselves away to find the Lady Heidmarch.
They waited patiently at the door to Heidmarch manner until an elf, introducing herself as Shalelu, answered. She seemed to know them, acknowledging their defense of Sandpoint and inviting them to meet with the Venture Captain.
The Lady Heidmarch agreed to meet with them. They exchanged pleasantries, with her explaining her position in the Pathfinder society and roughly what the society does. She took a moment during this to question the society's focus on the Mwangi Expanse when she could live in Magnimar and see ten thousand year old ruins out her bedroom window.
Kriger and Fijit lobbied her to send a Pathfinder to Sandpoint, suggesting that there was much under the city to still be discovered. She advised them that they'd already met most of the Magnimar lodge and it was unlikely she'd be able to send anyone soon.
Getting down to business, she looked over the Sihedron medallion for them. She explained its symbolism again, adding that it represented the unified magic that kept Thassilonian ruins intact for the intervening millennia since Earthfall. With that in mind, she suggested it would also preserve its wearer.
Kriger suggested he give it to her to study and keep safe, in exchange for a book to give Broderick Quint back in Sandpoint. She provided such a book, a newly completed work on the history of Kaer Maga, but also insisted on paying market value for the medallion.
Looking over the twisted sword, she advised them that it was, in fact, quite dangerous but could be melted down safely. She also gave her best guess at the weapon's origin as a pale copy of the Alara'hai.
Kriger agreed to have it destroyed as Fijit mentioned bringing a Pathfinder to Sandpoint again. Lady Heidmarch gave them a counter offer: they should return to Sandpoint as pathfinders.
After she explained the nature of their duties, essentially recording their findings and letting the society determine if what they found was dangerous before they started playing with it, Fijit and Kriger quickly agreed to join. Tobar protested he wasn't much use, but the others leaned on him to join for official purposes.
Sheila ran them through an abbreviated entrance ceremony, taking Shalelu's recommendation and her own, then having them swear to uphold their duties. Once they'd all agreed, she presented them each with a journal, mapping paper, and a wayfinder.
Once she'd explained the wayfinders' use, and what to do if they found an ioun stone, the newly minted Pathfinders made their way back to Scarnetti manor.
I also thought the note from Titus would be a nice touch. There's something magical about people who don't agree with you appreciating your work anyway and I think it'll tie the party to the town closer.
Most of this session was shopping. So much shopping.
The sword of Korovus looks way too cool to just be a +1 longsword, so I spiced it up a little. Basically, instead of being a simple enchanted blade, it's a blade the Scribbler tried to model after the Sword of Wrath. However, he couldn't connect it directly to the rune as Xin could, so it requires an external source of wrath (the bearer) to function.
I didn't use Shalelu earlier, so I dropped her in as a Pathfinder.
I wanted to introduce Heidmarch because we plan to run Shattered Star next. Since she'll be carrying on their legacy, it's a nice bit of foreshadowing to get her on stage now.
Next time: The Opera! And probably murder!
A Brief Addendum Concerning A Quill
During their meeting with Lady Heidmarch, Kriger asked her to help identify a quill they'd found in the Catacombs below Sandpoint, which she did. In addition to producing its own ink, the pen could apparently also write a divination of the future... for whoever's blood it was dipped into.
The party, naturally enraptured by their creepy new Thassilonian artifact, proceeded to puncture themselves and let it write their fortunes.
You will be the eyes of a town under siege
The general response was "Yup" with Kriger adding "more under siege?"
Fickle love turns the sourest
Fijit declared "That! I don't like that at all!"
The path of the wandering star follows the Black Arrow
Everyone was honestly confused by that one, although Tobar felt he had some knowledge of the Black Arrows on the tip of his tongue.
The Lady Heidmarch did warn them that, since the Death of Aroden, such things could not always be trusted. The party agreed not to take it too seriously.
The players latched onto that, because it's a weird detail, and quickly discovered that it produced its own ink. They grabbed it and went on their ways.
When they pulled it out for Sheila to take a look at, I immediately went for the creepy option. It seems like the sort of thing the Scribbler would make and use to foretell the fate of experimental subjects.
Have I mentioned I have an unhealthy love for foreshadowing? Because it's going to get me in trouble some day.
Skinsaw Murders (Session 0)
As they prepared to sleep, Kriger was presented with a tightly rolled scroll, apparently sent by courier. Although it was not marked, he quickly found it was sent by Broderick Quint.
It's probably nothing – I hope it's nothing and you're able to finish your vacation in peace – but I saw the rune today in a most unexpected place.
One of the town guards, Methis, I think his name is, showed me a rough sketch of the Sihedron and asked me if I knew anything about it.
The guards acknowledging I exist, Tobar aside, isn't quite strange enough to contact you. However, Mathis seemed quite shaken and asked if the rune might have any relation with Grayst Sevilla.
I checked and this Grayst is apparently a local tough who hangs out at the Fatman's Feedbag. Not exactly the scholarly type, you might say.
I was curious enough to speak with the Sevilla family. Grayst was recently found, quite insane, wandering in the woods. The family had him sent to Habe's Sanatorium near Ashen Rise, so I suspect it was quite hopeless.
I was loath to contact you, but the whole thing reminded me uncomfortably of your warning to not touch the Sihedron rune.
They decided to take Quint's advice and finish the vacation, perhaps with a trip to Habe's Sanatorium on the way back to Sandpoint.
Exploring the Shark
As freshly inducted Pathfinders, they decided to head to the Irespan and poke around. They quickly found two of the pilings with easy access from the surface.
"I think we should go into the one with sharks on it." Fijit opined.
Kriger seemed honestly confused. "Why?"
"Well, because sharks are under water, so if there are actually sharks in there... we're fine because we won't go into the water anyway."
The party took this as a good enough reason, ignoring a sign that "Only Ghosts and the Haunted should pass within."
A quick bit of exploring revealed the piling was once a giant barracks. Thinking better of their exploration, they quickly withdrew... but not quickly enough to avoid being ambushed as they passed back through the main chamber.
A group of Sczarni thugs, lead by a hooded criminal, faced off against the Goblinslayers in the pillared chamber. Their blades proved exceptionally keen and themselves exceptionally skilled... or exceptionally lucky, giving Kriger multiple gashes across the throat and causing Tobar to lose a great deal of blood.
But thanks to Kriger's healing and Tobar's cleaving blade, they quickly turned the tides of battle. They were even able to capture the Sczarni leader and one of his minions.
When the leader proved resistant to questioning, they jabbed him with the pen and set it to write his future.
The Hells' justice can not compare to the brambles of iron
Fijit quickly recognized the references to Magnimar's prison and elven Justice Ironbriar, the justice who helped Sandpoint at Aldern Foxglove's urging, but couldn't parse out why Ironbriar's justice would be distinct from the Hells.
His associate quickly cracked under Tobar's pressure, letting it slip that he's wanted. The three of them hauled their prisoners back to the Arvensoar, being thanked by the guards and even rewarded with the price on the thug's head.
They also stopped by the Heidmarch manor to drop off a basalt key carried by the Sczarni leader, presumably for something deeper in the Shark. Fijit and Kriger consulted further with Sheila, while Tobar spent time sparring with Shalelu and comparing notes about killing goblins.
Before heading to the opera as they'd planned, Toby ducked away to receive a Harrow reading. After some effort tracking down a legitimate reader, rather than the tourist traps, he sat down across a middle-aged Varisian woman in a well-lit room.
He wished to know how far the path he walked would lead him. She smiled and flipped up a card to represent him, the Paladin. He chuckled, perhaps a little self-consciously.
"This card, the carnival inverted, represents your recent past, an event which might seem darkly humorous or twisted but festive. Flanking your path, we see the Demon's Lantern representing dark knowledge and devilish tricks and the Crows inverted..." she paused, less for drama than to provide an aside.
She leaned back slightly. "The inversion of death may seem to be a good thing at first glance, but it means the dead do not rest easy." Tobar nodded that he understood all too well.
"The last card shows the end of your path, an inverted Tower, a place of strength threatened and laid low." She shook her head sadly. "You do not have an easy path to walk."
Tobar frowned. "But you still haven't told me how long the path will be."
She smiled sadly. "Oh, but I did," she tapped the Paladin. "You'll give up when you die."
Toby rejoined his confused companions, choosing not to share the dark things seen in his path.
To the Opera
Deadset on taking advantage of Aldern's invitation, the party engaged in one last whirlwind of shopping to look the part. Along the way, Tobar grabbed a new pendant for Shayliss to match the dress he found her in Thistletop.
The showed up at the Triodea fashionably on time and claimed their balcony.
Kriger looked out over the view, elbowing Fijit and joking "you should marry this guy. Or, at least, you know, show him a good time."
The watched through the first act, detailing Alcaydian Indros's failure of faith after the fall of Aroden and watching events in Korvosa... and his faith's return with the dream of Magnimar and probably Iomedae too, but mostly Magnimar.
At the end of the first act, with the blazing angel of Iomedae etched in pyrotechnics, the Foxglove balcony likewise burst into flames. The residents of a nearby balcony, apparently not so polite as the party about leaving weapons at home, raised their swords and shouted "die Sevener scum!"
A quick theatrical battle ensued, with Fijit using her sound bursts to great effect and Tobar leaping from balcony to balcony, hurling assassins into the audience below.
When Kriger shouted down to the cheering audience "this isn't a play, you fools!" they only applauded louder, driven by a handful of plants in the audience. Although Kriger insisted they were in league with the assassins, Fijit just shrugged "the show must go on!"
With the assassins hurled to their dooms, our heroes took over their balcony, helping themselves to a second course of cheese and wine as they enjoyed the remainder of the opera.
After the climactic battle with the Vydrarch and the final curtain call, they made their way to file a formal complaint with the management. She, for her part, seemed rather pleased with their performance, keeping everything from dissolving into chaos.
At the mention of fifty gold pieces, even Kriger's anger dissolved. He did take a moment to push for the name of the box's owner, however. The manager suggested there was no way she "could reveal Master Shellot's identity, even if he is a powerful member of the Sczarni."
With the opera behind them and heads filled with questions, the Goblinslayers prepared to return to Sandpoint in the morning.
Fijit has expressed concern for Master Foxglove, suggesting they drop by the manor on the way back to Sandpoint. Meanwhile, Kriger would like to follow up on Quint's lead to the Sanatorium. Tobar would like to get back to Sandpoint as quickly as possible both for professional (guard duties) and personal (Shayliss) reasons.
The whole thing with the Shark was largely ad-lib, but based on the Magnimar book. The thugs were Sczarni thugs from there (who rolled more criticals than not). Their leader was a rogue/ranger sharing out his human favored enemy.
Tobar's player totally hit me with wanting to have a Harrow reading out of the blue, but I think the scene went well. The benefit of players who've read the Guide to Varisia, I suppose.
The opera scene was intended to be half the boar hunt, providing some background for Foxglove's crush, and half foreshadowing for the Brothers of the Seven. I'm thinking Shellot was hired by a competing interest with the Brothers of the Seven, possibly even the Scarnettis, who thought Aldern would be an easy kill.
Shellot's also another possible hook for the Brothers, who I don't feel have enough hooks in the campaign as written.
When they took the Triodea's funds, Kriger's player muttered "Kriger, greedy greedy Kriger." I guess we know what his sin is.
Tobar's is undeniably lust, by the way. Fijit's, I feel, is pride.
I plan to start the next session (tonight) by them setting out in the rain. If they decide to go to the Manor, they're getting the whole horror movie treatment. Peasants warning them away and, if they push on, getting there as the sun's going down on a rainy night.
Habe's Sanatorium would be equally interesting, especially if they try to convince Habe to let them stay the night.
Heading straight back to Sandpoint will, of course, get them back on track with the Skinsaw Murders. The next murder will include Katrine Vinder and Benny Harker, so that one will hit Tobar where he lives.
Next time: The first session of the Skinsaw Murders! Misgivings, Dinner with Madmen, or Blood in Sandpoint!
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Skinsaw Murders (Session 1)
At Fijit's urging, with the added weight of the opera attack, our heroes decided to head for Foxglove Manor. They set out under a drizzle that quickly became a cold, steady rain.
Making their way along the increasingly muddy road, they were ambushed by a pair of frog-like humanoids, shaking the wits of the Goblinslayers (and the Goblinslayers' horses). Fijit exclaimed "Boggards!" and quickly set to calming their hearts with the gift of song.
The trio dismounted, with Kriger taking care that the horses didn't bolt. Tobar began slashing into the boggards as Kriger noticed what was spooking the horses: three serpentine fish known as swamp barracudas.
Although Kriger's mount was seriously injured, and healed just as quickly by Kriger, they were able to quickly disperse the boggards and barracudas.
Fijit, remembering something she read in a travelogue, noted that the barracudas are said to be quite tasty. They agreed the haul one of the fish to the Foxglove Manor, hoping that the cooks wouldn't be too put out by its sudden appearance.
Diverging from the main road, they wove down a muddy track as the sun set. They passed several well-lit farmhouses, spaced far apart among the harvested fields.
From the porch of one of the farmhouses, a gruff voice challenged them. "Who's there? Where you going this time of night? It ain't safe round these parts!"
Kriger responded. "We are but travelers." Apparently thinking that was lacking in details, Fijit added. "We're heading to Foxglove Manor."
"I wouldn't head up that way if I were you, 'specially not at night. Yer all welcome to stay here for the night. We have plenty of space and hot fires."
Fijit and Kriger both peered at him, but eventually judged his motivations to be as he said, a simple fear for their fate and common country decency.
Fijit shrugged. "It would probably be impolite to show up this long after nightfall anyway. Better to come in the morning."
"It's settled then!" he waved them in. "I'm Maester Grump. Ah, and you," he pointed at Kriger as he came into the light, "must be Zantus's Ulfen kid."
Kriger smiled. "Something like that. You know the father?"
"Ah, yes, I try to visit every time I head to town. I heard you all were going to build a nice new chapel."
Kriger and Toby enthusiastically nodded, with Kriger adding. "It was actually just consecrated, you should drop by next time."
"Sounds lovely, I think I shall." As an afterthought, he added, "Agnes! Put some water on for tea!"
Fijit gestured to the fish. He blinked a few times and added "and get ready to cook up a fish. A big fish!"
"Yes, father!" a call came from the kitchen as our heroes settled in. As tea came out, they discovered it belonged to a woman, older than Tobar but dressed somewhat like a child.
Having picked up on Grump's obvious fear of the Foxglove Manor, Fijit began slipping it questions as soon as tea was served. "We're friends of Aldern Foxglove. Is there something the matter with him?"
"Nah," Grump shook his head. "He's a good kid, looking after his parents' wishes and his grandparents' wishes. It's the house. The place is cursed, haunted, and probably worse besides."
"But your friend's a good kid. And his wife, Iesha, woo. She's a looker. And dances like... get's the blood moving you know, eh?" he elbowed Kriger, who laughed politely without being entirely sure what Grump meant.
Not one to dismiss superstition, Fijit asked him why he believed the house was cursed. Grump shook his head. "Terrible things in that house, always. Was built by Aldern's grandfather... maybe greatgrandfather... I dunno. But he and his wife up and disappeared."
"Then, Aldern's mom and dad moved in a ways back. His mother went crazy, tried to burn the place down... didn't get the whole thing. She and his dad both died."
"He's moved back in now, trying to get it fixed up."
Fijit frowned. "So, he's alone in there?"
Grump didn't seem sure. "Well, as far as I know. I don't want to wag tongues, but word is Iesha ran off to Absalom with one of the workers. Then everybody else left in ones and twos."
He shook his head. "Yeah, it's one thing staying in a haunted house with a beautiful woman... another thing entirely to stay in there with a depressed man."
With that dinner was served, swamp barracuda enjoyed by all, and the Goblinslayers sent upstairs. Fijit was given Grump's younger son's room, who died of the plague. Tobar and Kriger elected to share Grump's older son's room, who'd left to find his fortune in Magnimar.
Kriger nodded solemnly. "My condolences for your younger son."
Tobar added a bit of black humor, perhaps all-too-true in its way, murmuring "my condolences for your older son."
Grump thanked them both and sent Agnes up with blankets.
Alarm in the Night
Kriger and Fijit were awakened in the night by a hammering at the front door, barely audible over Tobar's snoring.
Picking up a panicked voice and something about the "Hambly place," Kriger elbowed Tobar awake. Fijit shouted "do you need anything?"
Grump shouted back up "no, we're fine! Get yer rest!"
The Goblinslayers, however, were having none of that, getting geared up and downstairs. They found Grump downstairs, crossbow in hand, talking to another farmer.
The other farmer was in a panic, suggesting that a group went down to the Hambly place and hadn't returned. With a little prodding, he revealed that one had returned, back at his house, sick and delirious.
They made their way to his house, finding the gaunt man in a filled bathtub. His only visible wound was covered with bandages. The farmer's wife and daughter watched over him, obviously unsure if there was anything more they could do.
Hoping his curative powers would help the infection, Kriger channeled a spell into his hands, touching the ailing man. He thrashed in the tub and Kriger withdrew a hand covered in smoking flesh. A handshaped burn stood out on the man's chest.
"That... shouldn't happen," was all he was able to manage for several moments, then "undead!" The women gasped and Fijit ushered them out of the room.
Kriger and Fijit put their heads together, quickly narrowing the possible causes down to ghoul fever. But, unfortunately, once the change began, even Kriger's most powerful magic wouldn't avail them.
Kriger suggested they pull the man downstairs, executing him and burning the body. Tobar was aghast at the suggestion. "You want to kill an innocent man! Can't your magic do something?"
Kriger shook his head, driving Tobar into a righteous fury. "Where's your Desna now? We can't just let this man die!"
The Desnan hung his head. "I'm sorry, Toby. He's already dead. All we can do is prevent him from killing anyone else."
Fijit backed up suddenly. "Uh, guys?" They turned to see the man's bloodshot eyes opening. Kriger called on the holy radiance of Desna, reducing the newborn ghoul to a smear of grease and ash.
They stood in silence for a moment until Kriger found his voice. "We need to get to that farm. He could have infected all these people. We can't let it spread."
Outside the farmhouse, the Goblinslayers consulted with the house's owner and Maester Grump. Kriger ordered them back to their homes, because it was far too dangerous out here. Even Tobar, blasé about combat, was not looking forward to fighting a disease he could not cut with his greatsword.
Fijit countered, noting they wouldn't be able to find their way to the Hambly house alone. Grump acknowledged that Fijit had the right of it and offered to be their guide.
"On one condition, though," he added. "If I die out there, you have to make sure Agnes is taken care of." They vehemently agreed.
The Hambly Property
Upon reaching the edge of the Hambly property, Fijit called on her fae blood to speak with the horses. After the usual rounds of "woah, you can talk!" she was able to convince them to head back to the Grump house.
More frightened of leaving a possible infection than for their own safety, the Goblinslayers made all manner of racket as they headed through the unharvested fields. Fijit sang at the top of her tiny lungs and Tobar clanged weapons together, attempting to attract any ghouls in the area.
Unfortunately, they succeeded all too well as Kriger felt terrible lines of pain running down his back. The others turned to find a scarecrow perched on his back, tearing at Kriger's neck with its teeth as they stared in shock.
With a crossbow bolt from Maester Grump, a tiny arrow from Fijit, and a bit of Desna's power, the scarecrow was quickly dispatched.
Fijit asked Kriger if he was going to be okay, gesturing at the neck wound. He felt it itching, but couldn't be sure if that was his paranoia in response to Fijit's question or a genuine infection.
Following the ambush, they decided to stop making noise, prowling along and keeping an eye on the seemingly endless Hambly scarecrows. Instead, Tobar began tracking the number of ghouls they'd killed, hoping the number added to six, for the Hamblies, plus around twelve, for the farmers who went to investigate.
Shooting at the next batch of scarecrows from a safe distance, they quickly discovered one was a living man. He doubled over, coughing out blood into his burlap hood. At Kriger's urging, following another bitter argument, Tobar decapitated the man with his greatsword.
Moving even more cautiously, there was some discussion on the next set of scarecrows, seemingly set to watch a crossroads. However, they were prepared to pepper them with arrows when they freed themselves.
However, even Fijit's arrow and Grump's quarrel weren't enough to stop the creature charging them. It bit into Fijit's chest as though trying to gnaw to her heart. The chill of the grave overtook her as she was forced to watch the ghoul tearing at her flesh. A quick swordstrike ended its unlife, but Fijit remained shaken long after she regained control of her muscles.
Kriger asked Fijit if she was going to be okay, referring to the chest wound. She felt it itching, but couldn't be sure if that was his paranoia in response to Kriger's question or a genuine infection.
Entering the final stretch, they forced themselves to kill another man bound as a scarecrow. Their first volley of arrows merely caused him to spasm, tearing at his bonds with newfound undead strength. The second volley, however, ended it.
As the quartet approached the Hambly farmhouse and barn, they stopped to formulate a plan.
The plan, as it turned out, was to burn the place down. Unfortunately, with the rain and the stone farmhouse, the plan was narrowed. Arrows were wrapped in rags and lit with lamp oil, hoping to catch the barn despite the rain.
Fijit and Tobar thunked arrows into the roof with little effect. However, Fijit slipped one in through the loft, catching the dry hay within the barn. Moments later, ghouls poured out of the burning barn.
Suspecting this is where they'll be making their stand, Kriger invoked Desna, consecrating the muddy earth they stood on. Fijit, Tobar, and Grump combine fire to bring down one of the charging ghouls, but the rest make their way onto blessed ground.
The fight quickly degenerates into a melee, with only Grump managing to keep himself disengaged. One ghoul's hungry bite paralyzes Tobar, leaving him staring off into the fields while Kriger calls on Desna's silvery light to batter the ghouls, saving Tobar from being devoured alive.
Distracted by the threat, only Kriger hears the farmhouse door open and close. However, they all hear a voice in Chelish proclaiming "COME, MY CHILDREN!"
Fijit and Kriger turn in time to see a ghoul in ruined servant's finery making his way into the circle of consecration. With their combined efforts, they're able to hold him back, keeping their eyes out for these children... hearing rustling before them and behind in the unharvested fields.
Finally, Toby regained control of his muscles, running through the undead servant. Sliding down Tobar's greatsword, the servant hissed "the master..." turning his head to reveal a bloody smile to Fijit "sends his regards." With his last drop of black blood he tossed a crumpled handful of paper to Fijit.
Taking a moment to collect themselves before the "children" arrived, Fijit read the note and Kriger searched the servant, finding an ornate key.
Fijit looked up from the note with an icy look. "It says we should accept the fever and become ghouls." Without further ceremony, she burned the note to ash.
As the children came rushing in, Kriger tossed the key to Tobar, adding another to Ripnugget's key ring from Thistletop.
The Children Attack
Two waves of ghouls poured in, one from the center of the fields and one from behind the house.
"Well," Tobar added, quickly counting. "I think that's all of them."
The ghouls rushed in, paralyzing Grump and raking Fijit. Using the last of Kriger's energy, the last of Fijit's sound bursts, and Tobar's cleaving blade, they quickly cleared in a matter of seconds... all but one.
The remaining ghoul, on the far side of the paralyzed Grump, ripped the farmer open with its talons and began to feast on his entrails.
Tobar and Kriger rushed in, Tobar to bisect the ghoul with his greatsword and Kriger to call on Desna's power, trying to save Grump. But the healing availed to nothing, Grump's spirit already having fled the mortal plane.
Kriger quietly closed the old man's eyes while Tobar screamed into the rain, a wordless howl of rage... one part challenge to any ghoul foolish enough to provide him with a target and one part challenge to the gods for daring to let innocent men die.
With Tobar's rage spent, they gathered their breath in front of the farmhouse, watching as the barn collapsed and sent sparks up to join with the rain. As they waited, the sacred ground seemed to consume the ghouls, breaking their diseased corpses down into nothing more than loamy earth.
Back to Sandpoint
It was Fijit who finally spoke up. "We need to get Agnes and back to Sandpoint."
Kriger added "we should evacuate the others," but was quickly shot down by Tobar. "No, we can send a messenger. We take Agnes and go to Sandpoint now."
Knowing better than to push his friend at this point, Kriger assented to head back immediately.
Walking back to the Grump residence, they found their horses cheerfully munching on oats in the stable. Agnes, although shaken by the news of her father's death, quickly gathered her mother's china and a change of clothes, and joined the Goblinslayers on her own horse.
Through the night and into the morning, they rode. While they rode, Fijit sang to keep up their spirits and encouraged Agnes to speak of herself. They quickly discovered that, after her mother and younger brother died and her older brother left, she remained as the child of the house so she wouldn't have to abandon her father as well and give him someone to care for.
After an eternity, they barely pulling themselves through the gates of Sandpoint.
Without stopping for anyone or anything, they stabled their horses and made their way to the cathedral. Zantus looked over their wounds.
"Yes," he pointed at the wound at Kriger's throat and Fijit's chest, "these two are bad. Father Tobyn, bless his soul, left the parish with two scrolls that should help here. Let me fetch him."
With two scrolls crumbling to dust, their wounds stopped itching, the only obvious sign. Kriger took the opportunity to collapse to bed while his companions made their way to the Rusty Dragon, hoping Ameiko might be able to provide Agnes with work.
Ameiko, dishing out some leftovers from breakfast, seemed amenable enough to the idea. She offered Agnes room, board, and wages for work as a waitress, which Agnes quickly agreed to.
With that matter out of the way, Fijit asked to rent a room, quipping "and this time, I can actually pay for it!"
Ameiko smiled, remembering Aldern Foxglove covering the bard's tab last time. "You won't have to wait on a white night to ride in and save you?"
Fijit's mood grew a little gloomier. "Actually, I think we might have to save him."
Tobar corrected her. "Might have to save him again. That'd make two."
Fijit laughed. "Yeah, I guess he's not much of a white knight after all."
Maester Grump here played the role of every warning NPC in every horror story ever, right down to the accent. Unlike most horror stories, the party listened to him. Not that it helped, per se.
I tweaked ghoul fever slightly. Basically, if you die after ghoul fever has set in, you come back immediately. The disease itself will still slowly kill you per rules as written.
This is both because it's creepy and because I needed to explain how all the scarecrows were already ghouls or close. I figured Rogors was infecting them, then letting them bleed out.
The players were legitimately tilted by the Hambly farm. Between the disease aspects, the ghouls jumping out of the fields, and accidentally killing an infected "scarecrow" people were on edge. The arguments between Tobar, wanting to save innocents, and Kriger, wanting to burn out the infection, got quite heated.
Fijit's player, in particular, was hit pretty hard by the description of paralysis and then straight-faced hid information from the party, destroying the note without revealing its full contents.
I changed the note from the Adventure Path, obviously, calling on a slightly different background. Thankfully, I had all of Your Lordship's notes created in advance.
As an easter egg that won't be obvious in the forums, Your Lordship uses the same font as Aldern, just at a larger font size and italic. I doubt they'll notice until afterwards, but it's the sort of thing they'll probably figure out in retrospect and curse me.
Grump's death hit them harder than you usually see with NPCs. Some combination of his opening his home to them, asking them to take care of Agnes, the general terror of the situation, and the fact that they almost saved him really twisted the knife.
Even if none of that happened, the conversation at the end about Aldern being "not much of a white knight" at the end would have made this session worth it. Because, damn.
The party now has enough XP to get to level 6. Tobar is probably taking a level of paladin, heading to fighter 5/paladin 1. Not sure of Kriger's or Fijit's plans yet.
Next Time: The Bloody Star
You have changed just enough to make it unique and refreshingly different. Always a good read. Look forward to The Bloody Star.
Thanks so much!
To be fair, it's about half me and half my players resolutely wandering off the tracks. Going straight to the Foxglove Manor (for reasons totally unrelated to the murders) is rather off-the-rails!
Skinsaw Murders (Session 2)
The Bloody Stars
After their hard ride, the Goblinslayers settled in to sleep a day and a night. When they awoke, they had some bad news for Sheriff Hemlock and he had some bad news for them.
They explained the situation in the farms to the south, with ghouls and their attendant fever. He gave Tobar formal permission to use his own best judgment, helping to contain any threat that he feels threatens Sandpoint.
Hemlock's news was closer to home: three bodies found near Cougar Creek. A Sczarni thug, now utterly mad and ropeburned from slipped bindings, was found wandering on the road and his tracks followed back to a hunting shack.
At their request, the Sheriff agreed to let them see the bodies. They had been stored awaiting burial in the unused cells beneath the garrison.
Each was marked similarly: a slit throat and a great Sihedron star carved into his chest. Kriger examined the bodies, suggesting that the star was carved while they were alive but, for whatever reason, not struggling.
Fijit and Kriger consulted over the bodies, trying to piece together what happened to them magically. Each carried a faint aura, reminiscent of the Sihedron medallion they'd passed on to Lady Heidmarch.
Spending time in the cellblocks reminded Kriger of their goblin prisoners. After frightening them with threats of writing their names and the wrath of Chief Tobar, they released the goblins outside the city, with a few pickles for rations. The pair ran towards Thistletop.
With Hemlock's permission, the Goblinslayers brought Quint into the investigation. They met him at the Curious Goblin and, after mentioning they had a delicate matter, he quickly invited them to his home for coffee.
They brought him up to speed, correcting a few misunderstandings he'd included in his letter, and discussed Thassilonian magic over hot drinks. Although Quint is no more a wizard than Tobar, his knowledge of the theory is second to none.
He explained at length how the Sihedron represents the joining of the Seven Virtues of Rule as well as the Seven Schools of Magic. The rite would, therefore, fusing together the seven schools into an alloyed whole or splitting a whole into seven parts. Unfortunately, he could not tell them what that might mean.
During the conversation, Tobar felt a dark presence lurking beneath the town. He followed the sensation outside, tracking it to roughly where they'd been exploring the catacombs before. He took this new, unwelcome sensation as a sign that things had grown worse beneath the town.
Meanwhile, Quint explained that much ritual magic could be used by even laypeople like himself. However, someone with a working knowledge of Thassilonian magic would have had to develop the rite at some point.
By Cougar Creek
Looking for more information about the rite, the party made their way to the hunting shack on Cougar Creek.
On the way, they spoke of the weather... still raining heavily, even after their day of rest. Fijit suspected something was at work, but couldn't find a cause, conceding any magic would probably only be detectable near the source.
The shack was obviously the site of some dark acts, sending a shiver down Tobar's spine. A pile of bloodied ropes in one corner spoke to Grayst Sevilla's time here and splashes of blood marked the dirt floor elsewhere.
Kriger grew increasingly curious about the relative lack of blood. Three men with their throats cut should have left far more. And, again, he was curious about the lack of an obvious struggle.
They quickly found three spots where victims would have been laid out, each marked with residual magic like their bodies. Kriger noticed something subtler, however, a burst of differentiated magic were each neck was slit.
Comparing the three bursts, Fijit and Kriger found that each contained seven schools of magic (all but divination), each in varying strength. However, in each case Transmutation was the strongest.
While they examined the auras, Tobar went outside to get some fresh air and check for tracks. He found many sets of heavy tracks, along with several lighter ones: five coming and two leaving.
With it confirmed that someone else was involved and the wounds were neither self-inflicted nor inflicted by Grayst, they agreed to visit Habe's Sanatorium.
Knocking politely on the door and waiting several minutes, the Goblinslayers were introduced to Doctor Habe. Tobar announced they were on business from the Sheriff, almost sending Habe into a blind panic, but Fijit quickly added they were there to see Grayst Sevilla.
Habe outlined the sad case, suggesting he had been in "some sort of monomaniacal fugue" since he was dropped off, repeating the same gibberish over and over. When questioned about physical wounds, Habe mentioned the rope burns and several animal bites and scratches.
At Fijit's insistence, Habe agreed to allow them into Grayst's cell without supervision. The straight jacketed man rocked in a corner, muttering to himself.
Kriger and Tobar failed to elicit a response from Grayst, but Kriger transliterated the madman's gibberish into his pathfinder journal. He quickly recognized some of the first Thassilonian words Quint had taught him and translated the text, with some allowances for atrocious pronounciation.
give Competition to the towering forests of Edasseril
carry Love to the silken palaces of Eurynthia
exalt Pride to the dragon roosts of Cyrusian
hurl Zeal to the burning peaks of Bakrakhan
pass Plenty to the bountiful fields of Gastash
and gather Prosperity to the icy spires of Shalast
When Fijit asked to see the translation, Grayst snapped too suddenly, staring at her and stopping his muttering. "He told me you'd come. Have you learned the Harvest Song? You need to learn it."
Fijit didn't exactly take this in stride, but able to summon up a question. "Just me or all of us."
Grayst looked up dumbly. "He told me you'd come."
"How did he tell you?"
Grayst shuddered as though suddenly afraid. "He became you. Showed me you."
That was about enough for Fijit. "Who is he?"
Grayst slumped a bit. "He's the one who told me you'd come. Have you learned the Harvest Song?"
Fijit looked down at Kriger, who showed her the note. Fijit nodded. "Yes, we know it."
Grayst smiled, then lunged at her, snapping his teeth at her. Tobar leaned against him, pushing Grayst against the wall and his teeth away from anyone he could harm.
Fijit backed out of the room carefully and Grayst collapsed as though his strings had been cut. Tobar and Kriger backed out a moment later.
They explained the situation to Habe, who was extremely apologetic. Fijit and Tobar waved it off, suggesting that they were able to overpower him without a problem. The gnome does make Habe agree to alert them if Grayst becomes conscious and Kriger warns Habe direly to not repeat what Grayst is muttering.
With that, they leave the Sanatorium to the good doctor and his allies.
Back in town, they returned to the Curious Goblin and suggested a light dessert at Quint's before bed. He took the hint and followed them to his home.
When shown the rite, he grows increasingly concerned. The descriptions of the seven realms of Thassilon and the careful ordering are ones that only a scholar or a Thassilonian would know.
Both Fijit and Quint suggest that it sounds like a Thassilonian children's rhyme, perhaps even discussing how the Virtues were first distributed to the different domains. Quint fills them in on what little he knows about the First Emperor Xin and the invention of rune magic.
Quint notices another strange feature, pointing out that the poem goes around the Sihedron star blade-by-blade, but the order starts at an unnatural place. He surmises, based on this, that the author favored either Shalast or Haruka, but warns them it is merely a guess.
But even the greatest scholars of Thassilon have little reason to favor one domain over another. It would imply whoever wrote the poem and created the rite would be a resident of ancient Thassilon, not merely a poseur or scholar.
With that peaceful thought, the Goblinslayers return to their respective abodes and turn in for the night. Tomorrow, they plan to visit the farms near the Foxglove Manor, staying overnight, preparing for a foray to the manor itself the following morning.
Tobar is in an interesting spot: he's a paladin of Torag now. But, in character, he doesn't realize anything's changed or even who Torag is. So, he's getting vague senses from detect evil and is just feeling like his life is getting creepier.
Kriger's player was getting a great Twin Peaks vibe off the guards finding the victim wandering, insane and rope-burned. And the general craziness.
I keep tapping the "no struggle" idea because the vision of the Skinsaw Man paralyzing people before he goes to work is super creepy. And if they figure out why they weren't moving, retroactive revelations are even creepier. Granted, Kriger's first idea is that they were doing it to themselves, which is plenty creepy too.
The lack of blood was me not being gory enough in my descriptions, but I'll narrate the Sihedron rite as making the deaths strangely bloodless (it is sort of scattering their humours to the runewells after all).
The Harvest Song is obviously not in the original, but I wanted to link it closer to Fijit's bardic nature. I also tweaked the Virtue names some to reflect my vision that the Sins are just twisted versions of the Virtues of Rule, not truly their opposites.
The party avoided any sort of fight in the Sanatorium. Even Grayst was just restrained.
Holidays are going to keep us from gaming for a bit, although I might run a Mythic rules one-shot. One of my players is trying to get Mythic tiers for the PCs in this game... so you might get to see a Mythic Skinsaw Man. Mua ha ha ha!
Next Time: Misgivings
Skinsaw Murders (Session 3)
The Call After Midnight
Toby woke up to the sound of gentle but insistent knocking at his door. It took a moment for him to realize he was back home in the Garrison and another moment to realize he should probably cover Shayliss up before he opens the door.
Back in his nightclothes, he swung the door open to discover Sheriff Hemlock, sporting what promised to become a black eye for the ages.
"Sorry for waking you up, lad, but you'd better get your friends. There's another one... in town this time, at the mill."
"Another what, sir?"
Hemlock sighed. "A body, like the ones I showed you in the basement."
"I'll get the others."
"Good. And... wake up Miss Vinder. I need to speak to her as well."
Toby blushed beet red, but closed the door and got Shayliss up before departing. He could hear her and the sheriff discussing something in hushed tones as he left.
Trouble at the Mill
Under the sheriff's orders, Toby dropped by the Cathedral to wake Kriger and the Rusty Dragon to get Fijit. They discovered it was a few hours before dawn, as the cooks at each were already up making coffee and bread, some of which they slipped to the heroes.
Two Magnimaran guards stood outside the Scarnetti Mill, looking a bit green around the gills. Toby hailed them, trying to get a feel for how they felt. One just commented "I came here to get away from this crap," but they didn't press for his experiences in Magnimar.
Inside the mill, they discovered why Hemlock needed to speak to Shayliss. Her older sister, Katrine, lay dead in a corner as though torn apart by wild animals. An axe lied next to her, certainly not matching the wounds she'd received. Nearby, her not-so-secret lover Benny Harker lied dead with the Sihedron peeled from his flesh.
Kriger set out to examine the bodies, finding a similar aura where Benny had been killed to the sites where the first three Sczarni died. High in the mill, he found a window broken out over the river.
But he stopped suddenly examining the axe. "Gah. This smells terrible... like rot and graves... like that head ghoul back at the Hambly place."
Tobar seized up. "Did he get away?"
Kriger and Fijit exchanged glances, but Kriger took the question. "No, I don't think so. We killed him and he crumbled to dust on consecrated ground. I don't think he'll be back."
Fijit nodded. "So it's another one, then."
With that, they moved the bodies to the Garrison and prepared to head out at dawn. Their plans to visit Foxglove Manor seemed no less urgent.
They stopped by the Goblin Stomp Stables, borrowing two horses and a pony for their trip, then set out for Foxglove Manor. The rains of the previous days continued, prompting several conversations about the unnaturalness of the weather on their slog down the Lost Coast Road.
Reckoning that it'd be impolite to drop in on Aldern in the middle of the night and that it would be dangerous to travel through the farms in the dark, they decided to drop in on the farmers they briefly met their last trip through.
Zetta, the matron of the family, reheated some food for them and was happy to provide a roof for them to sleep under. She got them up to date on recent events.
No one had seen any more ghouls, but nobody's going out at night. They've also been checking in on each other during the day. The only person unaccounted for is old Maester Chambliss, who hadn't responded to knocks on his door.
Zetta advised them against going to Misgivings, their local name for the haunted Foxglove manor. But she let the matter drop quickly when she saw they were intent on it.
They slept overnight, waking up early to visit the Chambliss house and Misgivings.
The Chambliss House
The party found Maester Chambliss no more responsive than the local farmers had. No amount of knocking, yelling, or threatening to break in roused any response.
With that in mind, Fijit attempted to pick the locks, but found them surprisingly well made. Toby settled for his own approach, shattering a padlock on the cellar door with his greatsword.
The trio crept through the house, finding nothing had been used for at least a few days. Toby felt an ill feeling from upstairs and they quickly found an old man's body with the Sihedron peeled out of his skin.
Kriger, following the man's arm to where it was reaching under the bed, found a sturdy footlocker. Unlocking it with the key the man carried, they found a neat arrangement of bags, each with twenty gold pieces inside, and a deed for the house.
They quickly agreed to give the money to the farmers who'd lost family members to the ghouls and the deed to any next of kin they could find. With that settled, they hauled some dry firewood outside and burned the body in the rain.
Knock, Knock, Knock
The Goblinslayers made their way to the doorstep of Aldern's manor. It looked terribly old, with mold speckling the walls, although the windows and parts of the roof looked new.
Ignoring the burnt down outbuilding and the half-dozen ravens perched there, they pounded with the ornate foxglove knocker. Like the Chambliss place, there was no response.
Not wanting to break in if they didn't have to, they tried the other door, to similar effect.
Tobar and Fijit headed back to inspect the burnt building. Fijit began speaking with the ravens amiably, but found her gnomish blood not connecting with them. Tobar didn't seem terribly surprised, acknowledging they felt "creepy."
The two of them fired at the ravens with their bows, Toby's shot pinning one to a bit of charred wood and Fijit's flying wide as the rest silently flew off. On closer inspection, the raven was obviously dead before the arrow hit, but no longer gave Toby the creeps.
Kriger joined his companions in searching the ruin, eventually finding an old well. Toby nodded that there was something wrong down there, so they decided against trying to shimmy down.
Back at the front door, they finally decided to try breaking and entering. Fijit picked the lock and they headed in out of the rain, leaving their mounts free to roam outside.
Out of the Rain
Kriger invoked Desna's least power, causing his shield and Tobar's sword to glow. The silvery light revealed a massive lionish creature with the head of a man and the sting of a scorpion.
They prepared for battle, pausing long enough to realize the beast was stuffed. Fijit was still on edge, though, asking the others if they could smell something burning. They were just confused.
Wandering through the manor, they soon came upon a decrepit piano. Fijit tried a few notes, finding it remarkably in tune. Tobar almost burst into tears at the beauty of the sound, so she continued playing.
Tobar swept up into a dance with an imaginary, or perhaps invisible, partner. Fijit and Kriger watched in awe and he twirled and spun, moving more fluidly than he ever would normally.
Fijit was the first to grow concerned, putting on an impromptu skit and distracting Tobar from his partner. He stumbled, seeming to realize his feet wouldn't do that, and collapsed.
Back to his senses, Tobar explained he saw a beautiful Varisian woman who was dancing with him. When he was distracted, he saw her rotting face out of the corner of his eye and heard her shriek as he fell to the floor.
Kriger looked at the piano, then around the room. "I have a feeling that Aldern is evil, dead, or both."
Fijit frowned, backing away from the piano, but was forced to agree with the sentiment.
In the next chamber, an old bathroom, Kriger heard a scratching from somewhere. Peering over the edge of the bathtub, he saw a diseased, scabrous rat trying to climb its way out.
Tobar carefully squashed it with his greatsword, despite the blind creature's surprising agility, and wiped the black blood off his blade on one of the towels.
Switching to a methodical exploration, Tobar suggested the next door. It opened into a room filled with dust and sheets of fungus.
Kriger shook his head. "It doesn't look like Aldern even lives here."
Fijit pointed to the floor. "Do you see that? Those footsteps?"
The others shook their heads, but she didn't bother to elaborate. "We have to get out!"
Toby nodded. "Sounds good to me!" Kriger followed behind them, certainly not willing to be left in this place.
Fijit lead them unerringly to the front door, throwing it open and stepping onto the stairs.
The sky was filled with wheeling ravens, granting only momentary glimpses of the grey clouds above. The horses' skeletons lay in heaps while the pony's had been scattered almost joyously, it's skull hanging from a branch of a dead tree.
Fijit stopped for a beat, clearing her head. "Nevermind. Let's go back inside."
Into the Fire
They quickly went over their resources. Kriger's magic could probably dispel or suppress the spirits here, but he'd need to find the source.
Fijit shuddered. "So we need to find out what happened here."
Tobar pulled out his sword, as though expecting a goblin to jump out at any moment. "Well, let's go."
They checked out the dining room, admiring the strange stained glass, although wondering why anyone would put them in the dining room and block the view of the gulf.
Kriger inspected the box at the bottom of each window. "Fijit, have you ever heard of a lich?"
Fijit looked at him, a maroon eyebrow quirked. "Of course. Why?"
For once, Fijit was willing to accept that as an answer. Perhaps there are some things even gnomes are not meant to know.
Passing into the library, their eyes were quickly drawn to the book, damaged bookend, and scarf lying on the floor. Kriger stared at the scarf, wondering how it could move on a breeze without that breeze disturbing the dust.
He turned to Toby. "Hey, poke that scarf with your sword."
Toby did, watching in terror as the scarf shot around his blade like a serpent, gliding over his arm and cinching itself around his neck. He went blue almost immediately, staring forward with an expression of absolute horror.
Fijit quickly launched into another improv, distracting Tobar enough so his face twitched from horror to confusion. As it did, the scarf fluttered from his neck.
Kriger apologized profusely, but Fijit just blurted "what the hell happened?"
Tobar shook his head. "Didn't Grump say something about Aldern's wife running off with a worker?"
Fijit nodded curtly, not seeing where this was going.
"I don't think she ran off. I think Aldern strangled her. And beat the man to death with that book end."
Fijit, perhaps still having some hope for Aldern pressed Tobar on how he could know that.
Tobar just shrugged. "I just saw it, like I was her. She was strangled with that scarf."
Against Kriger's advice to not touch anything, Toby picked up the book they'd been reading and, marking the page, slipped it into his bag.
According to Toby's map, they should only have one room left on this floor. Grateful for the mark of progress, Kriger opened the door. Glancing over the dusty room, he saw a beautiful Varisian woman looking in through the window for a moment, then she was gone.
Kriger shuddered. "I hate this place."
Being able to open with the sheriff waking Toby while he's sleeping with the victim's sister was basically perfect.
I didn't get a chance to include the Sihedron dead at the Hambly place, so I added a new encounter for that.
I played most of the haunts on this floor for scares rather than damage. With a three player party, I don't want to go too hard on them.
I went a little overboard describing the carrionstorms, but the expression on the players' faces was totally worth it. And, hey, they're not excited at all about leaving now.
Everything certainly worked out okay, because the players were definitely spooked by the end. Hopefully I'll be able to ramp up from their despite the break between sessions.
Our observer also insisted on coming back to see what happens, so I'll call that a win too!
Next Time: The Foxglove Legacy
Skinsaw Murders (Session 4)
Picking up where they left off, the heroes continued their exploration of Foxglove Manor, heading up the steps.
On their way up the stairs, Kriger became convinced something was following them. After a few demonstrations, however, it was determined to just be the old stairs creaking. Kriger remained on convinced.
They explored the second floor, finding rooms filled with supplies and mothballed furniture. This let them calm down a bit, although none were foolish enough to let their guard down in the old house.
They quickly found a child's bedroom, upon which Fijit saw a maddened woman stalking up the stairs they'd come up. The woman brandished a torch at the gnome and shouted "Aldern, get in your room!"
Fijit, never one to take orders, set her feet and shouted "No!" The others looked at her as though she had gone mad... obviously a threat in this horrible place.
The phantom swept through Fijit, chilling her to the bone. When she turned to see where the shade had gone, there was nothing in the hall besides her and her friends.
After searching Aldern's room and finding little more than toys, they made their way to the guest bedroom, now holding no guest other than a mat of fungus.
Kriger watched a small girl through the door. She looked up curiously, asking him "what's on your face, Mommy?" He didn't respond, instead watching as tumors and boils spread out from under her nightdress, rapidly consuming her body and spreading into a tremendous mat of fungus.
He shuddered and stepped back, noting the tattered old nightclothes half-buried at the center of the fungus.
Finding a newer door, the trio decided to avoid it, instead going up to the attic.
Into the Attic
The attic contained more rooms than they expected, split into seemingless endless tiny chambers.
Among the old storage, they found Vorel's observatory. Stained glass figures Kriger identified as Arazni and Socorro stared back at them.
As Fijit took a look in the telescope itself, she saw a reflection of the room, filled with flame. With a quick sniff, she realized that she was on fire again.
With a great deal more willpower than anyone expected from the impulsive little gnome, Fijit resisted the urge to hurl herself out the window. Knowing what had damaged the Arazni portrait, they quickly made their way out of the room.
They opened a door, expecting... or hoping to see more mothballed furniture. Instead, they found a small library.
Kriger gazed covetously over the scattered Pathfinder Chronicles, but stopped before stepping foot into the room. "Does anyone else hear that?"
Fijit shook her head. Kriger backed up a step. "It sounds like rustling papers."
As he said that, images flashed before them like the flipping pages of a book. Dozens of expeditions flipped past them, each more incredible than the last.
Kriger dropped to his knees, weeping at the horror of a lifetime lost to mediocrity.
His friends attempted to comfort him, but he had to call upon Desna's power to restore his calm.
The Weeping Woman
Opening the last door in the attic, they found a beautiful Varisian woman staring in horror to the side of the door,
They quickly realized she was the woman from Tobar's visions and that she was seeing something horrifying in the mirror. After a quick discussion, verifying her identity as Iesha Foxglove, Tobar stepped in front of the mirror to block her view.
She stormed out of the room, prompting Fijit and Kriger to hop out of the way, and headed downstairs. Meanwhile, Tobar peeked into the mirror.
He saw himself reflected, quite normally, except that his blade had glowing runes hammered into it... some sort of blocky script he'd never seen. However, there were more important things to deal with.
They followed Iesha down, hearing a massive pounding below them. Where there had been a strange spiral stain of fungus before, there was instead a massive hole pounded in the floor... revealing an actual spiral staircase.
Into the Caverns
They made their way down cautiously, realizing they'd lost track of Iesha. Instead, they began carefully scouting the caverns.
Down the left, they discovered the bottom of the well above. As they wondered what the point of that was, a shriek slammed into them like a physical force, stunning Fijit.
A massive bat grabbed the stunned gnome in its jaws and flew off with her, provoking the others into a chase. Kriger kept up, repeatedly channeling Desna's power to damage the, apparently undead, beast. Tobar was forced to run all out and hope he could head it off at the stairs.
Tobar focused his rage on the bat, trying to protect Fijit, and found his sword glowing with runes like the ones he saw in the mirror. His blows against the bat struck like his father's hammer at the family anvil.
Even with the blessing of two gods, the bat was able to carry its prey up the hole Iesha left and into the main floor. Finally able to move and rapidly running out of options, Fijit threw her collection of alchemical fire into the thing's maw and lit it off.
The explosion threw flaming pieces of bat in all directions and knocked Fijit deeply unconscious, leaving her to tumble to stairs below and injure herself further.
Thankfully, between Kriger's magic and, after she regained consciousness, her own, they were able to get her back into fighting condition. However, both of their reserves were close to tapped.
However, will little other option, they made their way through the rest of the caverns, quickly finding themselves in a running battle with ghouls and smaller ghasts.
Although they were never at any great threat, Kriger was left with only the barest hint of his normal power when they discovered the steel door at the end of the tunnel.
Finding the door unlocked thanks to immense blunt trauma, hopefully Iesha, they made their way through.
The room beyond was filled with sheets of fungus and, in the far corner, a simple writing desk. They quickly identified several shards of metal near the door as parts of the box depicted upstairs.
Kriger stared at part of the fungus that looked disturbingly humanoid. "My shadow!" he shouted. "They stole my shadow!"
Tobar quickly wrapped his arms around the priest while Fijit watched in horror as he tried to eat the "shadow."
She felt a light touch at her shoulder, followed by the chill of the grave. Aldern whispered at her ear, "I'm glad you finally came, darling. Soon we will be able to sing the Harvest Song."
He slipped into view in front of her, but she couldn't respond or even yell to warn her friends. Aldern slipped his war razor into Tobar's back, leaving him staring in shock at the blade protruding from his chest.
Before he could even respond, the blade came down again, slashing across the back of his neck. Tobar, from the top of his fighting shape, was now covered in his own blood and fighting for his life.
He spun to face Aldern, slashing at the ghast with his greatsword. Their battle was largely in place, with Aldern staying near Fijit's side and Tobar leaving Kriger to his own devices with the "shadow" of mold.
Thankfully, Kriger finished his feast before Aldern could dissect Toby. Although sickened, he called on his last reserves of holy magic to heal Tobar.
Fijit eventually returned to the world of the mobile, remarking "you got us the wrong opera box" as she tried to plunge Ripnugget's sword into Aldern.
Finding rapidly that wasn't going to happen, she channeled her last spells into curative magics, burning into her undead "lover's" flesh.
After a long-fought battle, Aldern collapsed to the ground, truly dead.
Kriger revealed the last blessing he'd been saving, consecrating the ground around them. Desna's power bound the terrible energies flowing through the house into the remains of the puzzle box, reassembling it and sealing them with silver light.
With the immediate threat passed, they searched Aldern's desk. It was covered with razors, like the one he carried but sized for Fijit. She elected to leave them there and used mage hand to lift up a mysterious note on the desk instead.
They no longer have any need for you, but our arrangement will continue. Remember that the sacrifices must be marked before they pass or their 'Prosperity' will amount to nothing.
Keep this note. If the disease has sapped your mind to the extent that you no longer understand your role, contact me through your family's house in Magnimar.
Rummaging through the rest of the desk, they quickly found several bird cages and two more scraps of paper.
Satisfied that the consecration would hold while they slept, they remained in the room.
On waking, Kriger showered with Desna's magic, curing the diseases infecting each of them. Kriger also consecrated the box itself so they could carry it with them, binding whatever unhealthy energy beneath Desna's might until they could reach Sheila Heidmarch in Magnimar.
Then they made their way, through the house, carefully checking over a few rooms that they hadn't already explored. With their curiosity sated, they gathered furniture, linens, and mothballs at several points in the house, setting each pile on fire in succession.
The trio made their way out of the house, stopping only long enough to see the flames begin pouring out the windows.
Overall, I liked the haunts, but felt that there were too many where nothing happened on a save. Sure, people are going to fail a couple saves, but "save for half" or "choose your poison" style effects would have been better for the growing horror of the house.
The players took basically nothing from the house. They figured it'd all be better off burned. So they got a grand total of zero treasure from this part. On the bright side, I can give the Skinsaw cult some sweet loot.
I included the scene with the mirror and Tobar to foreshadow his growing connection to Torag. And, as you can see, it also shows off a bit the "special effect" for his smite.
I obviously took some liberties with Iesha and the effectiveness of consecrate. I didn't want Iesha to completely trivialize the fight (although I should have explained what happened to her) and I really like clerics acting like clerics, so consecration has all sorts of little unexpected goodies in my games.
I'm considering Sheila being able to having to bind the box permanently or opening it under controlled circumstances and fighting the combined spirits of the Foxgloves. I'll probably have Sheila explain the possibilities and let them choose.
Next session we're adding another player, taking over Shalelu (who works with the Pathfinders in my game). I'm bumping the party down to the Medium XP track, but keeping max hp at every level, to compensate for having enough PCs now.
Next time: Sheila and Shalelu! Blood in the Streets of the City of Monuments! The name behind the Sihedron!
Another good read. I agree with your assessment about the haunts. I too would have preferred more to have happen from them. If only to create greater tension with no real damage, well maybe a little lost Wisdom or Constitution. But overall the Misgivings was a clever and a unique change of pace from the typical adventuring. It would be fun to see it acted out on film. It would likely be far better than the typical horror film made these days.
Another good read.
I agree with your assessment about the haunts. I too would have preferred more to have happen from them. If only to create greater tension with no real damage, well maybe a little lost Wisdom or Constitution.
Yeah, if I were going to rerun it, I think I'd make the haunts more interactive.
GM: When you look into the room, you hear a small girl's voice saying. "Mommy, what's that on your face?"
Then the player actually chooses something-
Kriger: I ignore it.
GM: You manage to fight off the spirit's energy, but take *rolls 1d4* 3 Wisdom damage.
Kriger: I check my face.
GM: It's covered in terrible boils. You can feel your flesh writhing with them as you touch your face.
Player: Ah! I claw them off!
GM: You manage to tear them off, taking *rolls 4d4* 10 damage. You pull back your fingers covered in blood and pus, but feel relieved for having done it. (to the other players) Kriger screams in terror and starts clawing at his face, pulling back his bloodied hands to reveal an expression of contentment.
Kriger: I check my face.
GM: It's covered in terrible boils. You can feel your flesh writhing with them as you touch your face.
Kriger: I... ignore them and try to keep myself calm.
GM: You feel the boils eat away at the flesh and bone of your face, spreading over your body. You manage to convince yourself it was a hallucination for a moment, then double over a vomit up a patch of slimy black mold. You take *rolls 1d4* 2 Constitution damage.
And so on. It obviously takes more text, so I understand why they didn't go for an approach like that. But making the players choose rather than just rolling should drag them deeper in and making all the choices bad would help wear them down as appropriate for haunt encounters.
But overall the Misgivings was a clever and a unique change of pace from the typical adventuring. It would be fun to see it acted out on film. It would likely be far better than the typical horror film made these days.
Yeah, agreed. If it hadn't been split between two sessions my players probably would have been nervous wrecks.
Skinsaw Murders (Session 5)
Transporting the Box
Following the trail of Aldern's note, the Goblinslayers headed back to Magnimar. They trudged down the Lost Coast Road on foot, wishing with every step that their horses hadn't been devoured or at least that the rain would stop.
Kriger prayed frequently over the seven-sided box they carried, keeping it bound tight with Desna's magic.
Their sleep on the trip was fitful and disturbed by strange dreams.
You glance towards the sky, finding an endless darkness with a handful of stars scattered in a pattern you don't recognize. But what stars! Every color in the rainbow is represented in their number and there are even more that you can't put names to.
A gentle pressure at the back of your head brings your attention back to the ground. It's an expanse, as dark and endless as the sky, but you seem to be standing on some sort of prominence.
Far below you, a battle rages between strange creatures that could be called men and strange creatures that could be called spiders.
The men are wrapped in expensive fabrics, leaving nothing exposed but their wide eyes and the black gems that orbit their forms. But they do not move like men.
The spiders tower over the men, perhaps the size of draft-horses, and no two seem to have the same number of legs. But they move with an intelligence and singularity of purpose that few humans could match.
The battle rages around a shadowy mountain. Near the peak of the mountain, you can make out a small red glitter... a pair of doors suspended in the air.
The mountain moves, stretching like a living thing and the door opens, as if inviting the battling forces through.
The men cheer, a terrible shriek that removes all doubt that they might be human under their robes. The shriek is taken up by a creature above you.
You get a faint impression of bat-like wings and rider orbited by black gems, then wake up in the rain. A single charred swallowtail butterfly wing lies on your chest.
It's then you first suspect it's a dream. He laughs as though he heard your thought and gestures down at the anvil.
Your sword is lying across the anvil, glowing red-hot. It says something in that strange script, but it makes no more sense than his speech.
He frowns, hammering at the blade. The letters jump and move, changing with every strike. He pauses again, as though to see if you can make any more sense out of it now.
He scowls like you forgot which thing "quenching" was again, then brings his hammer down on the blade again.
After that strike, he lifts the sword up by the blade as though it were no heavier or hotter than an autumn leaf. He presses the hilt into your hands.
You glance down for a moment, discovering you can read the new writing on the blade. "For all the Enemies of Sandpoint."
You glance back up to find yourself looking into the sky, soaked through from the seemingly endless rain.
They reentered Magnimar as the gates opened in the morning and made a beeline for Heidmarch Manor. Catching Sheila before she left for the day's business, they laid out their tale to this point, focusing on the box they carried.
Sheila verified it was only Desna's power holding the box closed and offered two options: they could bury it on holy ground and keep it sealed forever... or they could open it and destroy whatever darkness was held within it permanently. After some discussion, the Goblinslayers decided to take the box to Cynosure Tower, the local temple of Desna.
With that decided, Fijit turned the conversation to the Foxgloves. As a relative newcomer to the city, Sheila couldn't tell them much about them, but did mention that reports of similar murders had cropped up in Magnimar. Bloated corpses etched with the Sihedron rune were washing up along the shore.
The Goblinslayers quickly agreed to dig into these new killings as part of their ongoing investigation. Sheila promised the aid of the only other Pathfinder in residence: Shalelu Andosanna.
Before they could begin their investigation proper, the quartet set out to Cynosure Tower. Meeting with the temple's priestess, they left the talking to Kriger.
Kriger, for his part, quickly laid out the situation with the box and the priestess agreed to bury it on the grounds, placing it under Desna's protection until such a time as it can be destroyed.
He also confided in her the dream he'd suffered on the road. The priestess unconsciously grasped her holy symbol. "Yes, if not for Desna's grace, their eyes would be on you already."
"What were they?"
"The... people you saw are neither man nor beast. They come from a land called Leng at the far border of the Realm of Dreams. Our lady defends dreamers from the worst of their... predations, but they are ancient and cunning. "
Kriger chewed on that for a time. "Well, I suppose she must be warning me about them then. What language to they speak?"
The priestess blinked at him, taking a moment to follow the suddenly veering topic. "A dark tongue known as Aklo. It's shared by some residents of the Darklands. We do not know why."
With that squared away, they began talking about the weather. The priestess spoke of it as an affront to Desna, cutting off travel throughout Varisia.
At the phrase "throughout Varisia," Fijit's ears perked up. "Throughout Varisia? How far does it extend?"
The priestess considered it for a moment. "Well, it extends at least from Magnimar to Janderhoff and nearly out to Crying Leaf in the northwest."
Fijit paused to consider. "An effect like this should be roughly circular. Do you suppose there's any way you could get me a map of it's area?"
The priestess nodded. "Yes, although it might take me a week or two to get all the information you need. Travel's been quite slow since this has started up."
With that, and a quick exchange of ritual Desnan farewells, the Goblinslayers moved on towards the Foxgloves' townhouse.
They knocked at the Townhouse door, surprised to find it answered by Iesha Foxglove. When they advised her that they were friends of Aldern's from Sandpoint, she went to get her husband.
Confused by this turn of events, they joined the Foxgloves for breakfast. Kriger made vague mentions of "good times" in Sandpoint, leading Aldern to respond with equal platitudes.
Suspecting they were imposters, Kriger introduced the Goblinslayers under false names. Aldern didn't challenge their strange new names but, sensing something was amiss, Iesha suggested going up to the parlor to dance.
Fijit suggested Aldern play his favorite tune on the piano, "that wonderful Varisian dance." Aldern tried to comply, but received terrible results. He graciously offered Fijit to take over, since he was obviously so out of practice.
As Fijit sat down to play, Aldern offered his hand to Shalelu and Iesha to Tobar. They both danced and twirled with considerable ability, taking advantage of their grip to force those two to the ground.
The Foxgloves twisted into faceless creatures, their heads marked only by whorls of flesh and tendrils that probed into Shalelu and Tobar, feasting on their blood. Kriger laid into them with his starknife while trying to get Fijit's attention.
Kriger, unhappy with the effectiveness of his knife, shouted at Tobar. "Stab it!"
Tobar shot back. "With what? It's not like my sword is good from here!"
"Your knife, you idiot!"
"Knife? Never needed one!"
Shalelu slipped Aldern's grip first, taking a step back and raining him with arrows. Tobar pushed himself free moments later, hacking brutally into the thing that had impersonated Iesha.
With Fijit finally realizing what was going on, the Goblinslayers joined the fight in force and cornered the creatures, trapping them and destroying them quickly with superior numbers.
Searching the Townhouse, Shalelu found ancient records about the Foxglove Manor and its co-ownership by the Brothers of the Seven.
Suspecting the Brothers are somehow related to all this, they decided to approach the authorities. They'd already made some contacts at the Arvensoar, having turned in bandits there for a substantial reward, and dropped by to see if they could find out about the investigation.
They were lead to the lieutenant in charge of the murder investigation. He was leery at first, but quickly warmed up to talking to them as they explained their experience dealing with a suspiciously similar issue in Sandpoint.
He lead them to the morgue where the most recent victim was laid out. Kriger examined the corpse quickly, noting that (apart from being waterlogged), the Sihedron was carved quite differently. Where the Sandpoint victims were mysteriously unmoving, the victims here had been bound hand and foot, struggling against their fate.
Satisfied that they were hunting a different, but related, murderer, they spoke to the lieutenant of the pattern thus far. From what he could say, the murders had begun several weeks ago with prostitutes and petty thieves, but now respectable businessfolk were being targeted.
Fijit mentioned they'd heard something about the Brothers of the Seven. The officer advised that the Brothers have friends in very high places, but that they were also an old group and had never been related to anything like this.
The Goblinslayers promised to report anything they could find.
Hall of Records
Fijit and Kriger spent the rest of the day in the Hall of Records, searching through papers dating back to around the time of Foxglove Manor's construction. It took some looking, but they found a number of deeds purchased by the Brothers during that period.
The two scholars carefully constructed a map showing the Seveners' holdings. They also began to form a theory that Chief Justice Ironbriar may be their "friend in a high place," as his signature appeared on several of the deeds.
Fishing for Rumors
Meanwhile, Tobar and Shalelu checked for rumors around town. Most rumors, as one would expect, swirled around the murders. Few people seemed to know that there were runes carved on the victims and fewer still knew what those runes might be.
Shalelu set the follow the one man who did, tracking him to the Bazaar of Sails, but falling short of tailing him onto a black galley tied in the least desirable section of the docks. Peering at the outside of the ship, she felt doubly glad, as it was somehow able to float despite the wood of its construction more closely resembling stone.
She reported this back to Tobar, who checked in with the dockmaster's clerk, asking for any information about the ship while sliding a platinum piece across the desk. The clerk was, understandably quite helpful.
From what he could share, those black ships came and went as they pleased, accepting many guests but rarely disembarking any crew. He related an old tale of the crew, saying they covered themselves from head to toe in rich robes and face wraps and that they spoke as men, but didn't walk like them.
Tobar, with a guardsman's instinct, pushed for how long the ship had been in port. The clerk checked it over and said they'd only been in town for two days.
Disquieted, but thinking it's unlikely the ship had anything to do with the murders, they returned to Heidmarch Manor. On the way, Shalelu badgered Tobar into picking up a knife "for next time."
Back at the Manor
Comparing notes, the group agreed to check out the Sevener properties in the morning. Kriger found the reports of the ship more disquieting, however, as the crew of that ship sounded far too close to the denizens of Leng for comfort.
As they explained their findings to Sheila, Tobar asked to borrow a mirror and used it to check out his blade. It now said something else in Dwarven which Tobar resolved to have translated at the first opportunity.
Kriger's dream is more foreshadowing so the Denizens of Leng don't just show up at random at the end. I plan to have them show up a few times.
At some point the PCs might go back and fight the combined spirits in the phylactery. Or they'll figure out something awful to do with it. Whichever.
Our fourth player joined in this session, controlling Shalelu. Bringing her into the party was pretty seamless, especially as she'd already been introduced as a Pathfinder in our game.
I introduced the lieutenant to underscore why the authorities couldn't take care of Ironbriar, but the party took a liking to him and kept him in the loop as much as possible through their investigation.
Next time: Shoreline property and the Seven's Sawmill!
Skinsaw Murders (Session 6)
Fijit and Kriger settled in for another exciting day reading through dusty records. They decided to narrow their search to property records: specifically, shoreline property held by the Brothers of the Seven or Justice Ironbriar.
They found records on several pieces of properties, but the most interesting by far was a private island. From the records of the time, it was not developed at all when they purchased it, but had since built one of the city's lumber mills.
Digging further into the property, Fijit found an old legal ruling written by Justice Ironbriar. The owners had built a bridge to shore, blocking boat traffic. He, uncharacteristically, ruled against shipping interests and even forced them to pay a fine for "wasting the court's time with frivolous charges."
Kriger checked over the document, comparing it with the note from the basement of Foxglove Manor. He was disappointed to find that the writing didn't match, signaling the possible entry of another player to the game.
Up the Foodchain
Meanwhile, Shalelu and Tobar headed to Naos. They reasoned that, with the attacks moving up the social order, Naos was likely to be attacked soon. Although the streets were largely abandoned to the rain, they did their best to not stick out.
Shalelu spotted a group of shaken-looking young men and women leaving a house. The pair swept in, cornering the last one to leave.
With Tobar breathing down his neck, he quickly spilled why he was leaving: they'd come over for a party with certain... less than legal entertainments, but they found the hostess dead when they arrived. He was quite adamant about the last point, repeating "when we got there" several times for emphasis.
Tobar released the man, heading off to find some guards. Meanwhile, Shalelu slipped her way into the house to investigate personally.
To buy his compatriot some time, Tobar engaged the guards in pleasantries about being a guardsman and strung out the details of what he'd seen as long as possible. The Naos guards, for their part, seemed taken in by his "act" of being a small town yokel.
Inside the building, Shalelu discovered the hostess facedown in a decorative pool overfull of rainwater and stained with blood. A quick check verified what the Pathfinder already expected: the Sihedron rune carved on the woman's chest.
Slipping back out to rendezvous with Tobar, Shalelu explained both the situation in the house and the victim's reputation as a black widow.
Meeting back up at Heidmarch Manor and comparing notes, the Goblinslayers sketched out a path forward. All signs pointed to the Brothers of the Seven and their most suspicious property was the private island containing their lumbermill.
So, naturally, Fijit decided to pose as a wealthy merchant interested in purchasing lumber to refurbish the manor she'd recently acquired. Tobar and Shalelu tagged along as her "bodyguards" and Kriger as her "spiritual advisor."
Together, Fijit's court made their way to the island. Although a normal observer might not have noticed anything strange, the crew picked up several minor oddities: many of the workers were carrying concealed weapons, the plants on the island were strangely blighted as though they rarely saw the sun, and all of the laborers carried themselves like they knew their way around a fight.
Fijit blithely wandered into the Seven's lumberyard and began asking questions about various types of wood, attracting the attention of a sales-half-elf named Jered. He seemed even more prepared than the others to jump into combat, but proved to be quite knowledgeable about lumber.
Meanwhile, Shalelu broke off to slip into the sawmill proper. First, she found a minor mystery: a pile of straw that smelled of formaldehyde and death. But the rest of the building seemed dedicated to processing lumber...
Except for the top floor, where she found two "workers" standing and discussing how the schedule was being stepped up. When one complained about the late nights, the other hissed for him to keep it down and muttered something. Shalelu could only pick out "Ironbriar."
With all the evidence she felt she could collect, Shalelu slipped back out of the building to rendezvous with Fijit and the rest of the team. Jered gave her an odd look, but they were allowed to leave the island without being harassed.
After a few twists and turns, Shalelu noted that the lumber salesman seemed to be following them. Rather than start a scene, they simply made their way into the Bazaar of Sails and sat down for dumplings.
Once they'd settled in, Fijit called out to him, offering him a spot at their table and making small talk about lumber and Jered's job. Jered let the gnome pry until it was obvious that he'd been found out and gracefully bowed out of the conversation.
Finishing their dumplings, the party decided to share their discoveries with the Lieutenant.
A Rare Moment
Heading back to the Arvensoar, Tobar made their report to the Lieutenant. Although they had more theory than evidence, the party was able to lay out a convincing case.
Fijit suggested they'd be lucky so far and wouldn't be likely to get more information without a fight. Kriger concurred, suggesting someone would have to stage a raid on the Sawmill.
The Lieutenant finally voiced his concerns aloud. "We can't go through official channels. Even if you found Ironbriar over a body... your word against his... he'd walk. But, I've looked into things a little myself and I think you're right. I think the Seveners are involved somehow."
He took a deep breath. "So, we can't have an official raid if there's any chance Ironbriar's involved. What I can do is clear a path for you. If you give me a time frame, I can make sure you get to that sawmill and back without getting any problems from the Guard."
Fijit and Kriger quickly worked out the logistics of when it would be best to attack: around ten hours from then at two in the morning. The Lieutenant explained he could give them an hour window to get in and out without it being obvious to the rest of the City Guard.
Tobar wrestled with the issue internally, weighing whether it was worth corrupting the law to root out a greater corruption. He eventually nodded, his only sign of assent.
It was Shalelu that broke the silence. "I don't say this very often, but thank you."
Overall, this was a fun investigative session. Kriger didn't see a lot of action, but Fijit and Shalelu really got to shine, so it balanced out.
Pretending to be lumber buyers and trapping Jered at the dumpling shop were both the sort of sideways thinking I love from my players. It took them off the main track a bit, but they're ready to assault the Seven's Sawmill next session, so it's all for the good.
I was very pleased how the Lieutenant (who still doesn't have a name, because I'm bad with names) has been able to help the PCs and even endear himself to them without doing their jobs for them. I've found that's a difficult middle ground to strike with law enforcement.
Next Time: The Assault!
Skinsaw Murders (Session 7)
Under Cover of Darkness
Although Magnimar is bustling during the day, and certain neighborhoods prefer to do their business at night, few people are interested in being out in the rain at two in the morning.
The Goblinslayers slipped from Heidmarch Manor towards the Seven's Sawmill. The journal in Kriger's room would explain the situation to the Heidmarches should the party fail.
They made their way to the island, unmolested by thugs or the city guard. Unlike the streets, however, the sawmill was far from abandoned. Machinery roared and lights flickered from within the building.
Outside the building , drenched by the endless rain, Kriger outlined a daring plan: he would call on Desna's blessing to lift Tobar to the rookery on the roof and the rest of them would cling to their giant comrade.
Guided by the goddess of travel, Tobar lifted his companions to the rookery and they carefully disembarked. Fijit and Shalelu nimbly leapt in among the birds, with the gnome calming them to the disturbance.
Kriger, on the other hand, slipped on the rain-slick wall and tumbled onto the trapdoor leading below. Voices echoed up through the wood beneath him as the adventurers prepared for battle.
Storming the Sawmill
The trapdoor flipped open, revealing a man in workman's clothing. Two of Shalelu's arrows and one of Fijit's were enough to send him tumbling back down the ladder, despite Shalelu's efforts to catch him.
Rather than waiting for trouble to come to them in the confined quarters of the rookery, the Goblinslayers charged down the ladder into a small study. There Shalelu came face to face with one of the few other elves in the city: Justice Ironbriar.
Ironbriar took advantage of her surprise to slip out of the office, where the situation quickly dissolved into a running battle. Neither Tobar nor Shalelu could penetrate Ironbriar's defenses, but the Justice's slow retreat drew his pursuers away from the rest of their companions.
Meanwhile, the Skinsaw cultists swarmed Fijit and Ironbriar conjured a serpent of fire and smoke to harry Kriger. With Tobar drawn away, the cultists were even able to surround Shalelu, leaving Tobar cut off from all support in turn.
Unfortunately, Ironbriar underestimated the archers' facility in hand-to-hand combat as Fijit and Shalelu chewed through the Skinsaw ranks. Kriger took a different tack, slipping the serpent's coils to provide much-needed healing for Tobar.
As his minion's ranks dwindled, Ironbriar slipped further and further back, letting cultists from downstairs cover his escape. Although this bought him precious seconds, the Goblinslayers could once again apply their traditional tactics: Tobar hewing through minions while Shalelu picked up any lucky enough to escape the first blow, Fijit aided with arrows and song, and Kriger kept Tobar alive.
Deep in the Sawmill, the Goblinslayers finally caught up with Ironbriar, Tobar keeping him pinned down while Shalelu brought the other elf down in a hail of arrows.
The group's short-lived breather was interrupted by several cultists return from that night's hunt. They quickly fell in an ambush among the spinning gear works, although their unconscious victim fell into the gears himself.
Although Jered, one of the cultists out on the hunt, slipped through the party's lines to rendezvous with his companions upstairs, no help was coming. Tobar and Shalelu cornered him among the bodies of his fellow cultists and cut him down.
Kriger took the opportunity of being back upstairs to loot Ironbriar's office, honing in on a ciphered diary. Recognizing its characters as a mishmash of Draconic, Elven, and Abyssal, he tucks it away for further study.
With the rush of combat fading away, a stark fact faced the group: they'd just killed a Justice of Magnimar. They knew it was justified, but there were going to be some uncomfortable questions.
It was Fijit who spoke up first. "We should carve the Sihedron in his chest and throw him out to sea. They'll think it's just the last murder."
The rest of the Goblinslayers quickly agreed, with Tobar taking responsibility for the decision. He carved the seven-pointed star in Ironbriar's chest then heaved the elf into a tidal pool.
Fijit broke out in giggles as the body bobbed there, prompting a frown from the warrior for interrupting a solemn moment of victory and reflection on lawlessness. She waved it off. "Sorry, I just realized you finally used that knife we made you get."
That said, the start of the fight, with the cultists swarming everywhere and the summoned snake harrying Kriger, went off smashingly. It balanced out pretty well.
The second combat (down among the gearworks) I included to show off my gearworks map and to tie up a loose end. I'd forgotten to include Jered, the only other named Skinsaw, in the fight earlier, so I figured he should show up.
The party totally floored me by carving the Sihedron in Ironbriar and chucking him into the water. It tied things up nicely, though, along with being a delightfully dark touch.
Next time: Investigation and discovery! Ironbriar's secret master?
Skinsaw Murders (Session 8)
The Goblinslayers made their way back to Heidmarch Manor under cover of darkness, slipping through the gaps in guard partrols left by the Lieutenant's orders.
Back at the manor, Kriger settled in for the long task of translating Ironbriar's journal, quickly discovering it was actually a cipher using elven, draconic, and abyssal characters. Fijit joined in, providing light background music to help inspire him.
More Than Just Trolls
Meanwhile, the rest of the Pathfinders made their way through the city. Bereft their usual diplomats, Shalelu and Tobar contented themselves with wandering the streets and eavesdropping on gossipers.
In the upper quarters, rumors swirled about a council seat opened by the recent killings. Several merchants were in the running, but word on the street focused on the Princess of the Bazaar, taking an official interest in council politics, and Xanesha, a woman who claimed to be a distant cousin of the fallen councilor.
The lower quarters were, as most would expect, less interested in council politics. Instead, rumors focused around problems in Underbridge the previous night, a full-blown riot. Word on the street connected it with the continuing killings, as no-one outside the party realized the issue was resolved.
When Shalelu expressed her confusion about the poor rioting while the rich they hate are killed, Kriger explained the situation with a guard's eye: it's not the deaths, it's the authorities' apparent loss of control.
On their way back to Heidmarch Manor, Tobar dropped by the dwarven weaponsmith in the Bazaar of Sails. He quickly translated the new runes that appeared along Tobar's blade: "Xanesha"
A Late Dinner
After an exhausting series of council meetings, Sheila Heidmarch returned to join the party for a late dinner.
She was able to confirm the rumors that Tobar and Shalelu had heard, along with the council's deadlock. Fijit suggested exacerbating that to buy them time.
It's then that Tobar informed everyone of Xanesha's attempt to get on the council and her appearance on his blade. Although no one knew the source of the writing, least of all him, he trusted it enough to believe this "Xanesha" was bad news.
Sheila agreed to slow things down, suggesting that the Lord-Mayor could be easily persuaded to extend the battle over his favor.
Over the next few days, the Goblinslayers discovered that the murders had, indeed, stopped. Sheila spent her time in the council chambers, gumming up the works and trying to draw out Xanesha.
Kriger had his first breakthrough in the journal trying to find "Xanesha," which appeared dozens of times in the last few entries. From there, he unlocked more and more, finally discovering the phrase "Shadow Clock" used in the final entry.
Fijit, peering over his notes, blinked a couple times. "I know where that is. It's an old clocktower they tried to build in Underbridge... trying to beautify it."
Not sure I mentioned this before, but the sword is basically Torag's channel to Tobar. It shows him the name of the biggest threat to his community right then, so basically the next big boss. I don't think it'll ever get spoilery, really. Just the name will only get people on the right track.
This entire session was wandering around and investigating. It followed a bit too closely on the investigation for Ironbriar, so Tobar's player was getting pretty antsy. That's most of why the last section was handled as a montage.
Next time: Time to die! (Get it? Shadow clock? Time? I slay myself.)
Skinsaw Murders (Session 9)
Sharing the Evidence
Trusting that Ironbriar's journal contained evidence of his malfeasance, Kriger suggested taking it to the Lieutenant before they left to investigate the Shadow Clock.
Rousing him from a well-deserved rest at his desk, the Goblinslayers laid out how they'd... discovered Ironbriar's journal. The Lieutenant alternated between interest and shocked horror as Fijit narrated.
With their story and an encrypted journal, he suggested they contact a third party to confirm their decryption and satisfy the courts that Ironbriar was responsible.
Together they visited the Cathedral of Abadar. They waited in line for a time with the other supplicants, chatting about the weather and the riots in Underbridge. Eventually, an acolyte attended to them, Kriger sending him skittering to his superiors with a mention of "corruption in the judiciary."
They met with the ranking priestess and let the Lieutenant do the talking. He laid out how they'd uncovered a journal suspected to be Justice Ironbriar's personal journal, but suspected it may reveal serious corruption within the judiciary.
The priestess, understandably aghast, agreed to take possession of the journal and make certain that the decryption was handled within the priesthood under her own supervision. If there was any corruption, they'd report it to the appropriate authorities then.
Satisfied that the clergy of Abadar would do the right thing (or at least act in the law's best interests), the party left the Lieutenant at Arvensoar and made their way to the Underbridge and the Shadow Clock.
To the Shadow Clock
It was easy to pick out Irespan, even in darkness and rain, as the light of dozens of burning homes flickered beneath it. Plumes of smoke came back down as ashen rain, coating the streets with a slick black slime.
The party made their way into Underbridge with only a cursory warning to watch their backs while they're in the Irespan's shadow and keep their hands up when they come back out. The rioters beneath the bridge seemed more interested in a bit of robbery, but moved on to easier prey after a glare from Tobar.
Fijit led them through the ramshackle huts, taking a wide route to avoid the worst of the rioting, but brought them to the abandoned clock tower. The clock stared out unmoving over a stone tower still surrounded by picked-over scaffolding.
Shalelu got right to the point. "Top or bottom?"
Kriger whispered a prayer to Desna and laid a hand on Tobar. "Top worked pretty well last time."
The others clung to Tobar, letting him pull them up with Desna's blessing. They quickly located the top of the scaffolding and, on it, a door leading on to the same level as the clock face.
Death from Above
They remained at the door for a time, consulting again over whether to pass into the clock tower that way or explore below.
Kriger sighed. "If we wanted to go down, we should have just walked in."
That decided, Tobar opened the door, seeing a strange room: incomplete and filled with gearworks, but with fine silk curtains and tapestries walling off a section around the clock's face.
As the others filtered in, Fijit took in the surroundings. "Xanesha's place, probably. Think she's hiding behind that curtain?"
Tobar nodded and Fijit took it as a sign that she should hurl alchemist's fire onto the curtains. As they went up in flames, one of the tapestries moved strangely, as though tossed by a heavy wind.
They questioned what that might be as Tobar felt a spear pierce his armor and flesh. The spear appeared as his blood flowed, revealing a thorned length and a serpentine woman in heavy armor wielding it.
She spoke a word in Thassilonian that Kriger could translate to "Tremble." And they did.
Fijit did her best to counteract the Thassilonian magic while Shalelu hailed the serpentine woman with arrows. But the arrows had little effect as she slithered back behind the curtains.
Behind the Clock
Tobar, heedless of the danger or simply driven into a rage at his stab wound, charged through the curtains... only to find a sofa and pile of footlockers in a small "room" rapidly filling with smoke. He lashed about with his sword, trying to score a hit on Xanesha.
She revealed herself as he got too close. This time, she stood face to face with Tobar, the gem-like eyes in her mask glowing with green light. He resisted their magic, stabbing at her as he heard the cries of his comrades beyond the silken barrier.
The three of them found the door behind them swing open, revealing Aldern Foxglove and two low-class thugs. Suspecting another duplicate, and not adverse to killing Aldern again, Fijit called on her magic to stun them.
Unfortunately, in the enclosed area of the clock tower, there was little room to escape both them and Xanesha. Fijit slipped through the burning curtain, nonplussed by the self-inflicted burns, and took up position in front of the clock face.
Meanwhile, Kriger was forced into the unwanted role of shapeshifter-bait, keeping himself alive long enough for Shalelu to fill each with arrows.
As Shalelu finished off the creatures, Fijit and Xanesha danced around Tobar, with the creature trying to get close enough to finish off the tiny spellcaster. Fijit paid little mind to the scratching sound from down below the clock, other than hoping there weren't more reinforcements coming up the scaffolding.
Until, that is, the twisted arm broke through the clock face and trapped her in its fist. Kriger and Shalelu ran to her aid as the grotesque creature hauled itself the rest of the way through the clock, with one hand around Fijit and the other around a wicked scythe. Shards of glass were stuck in its hat, its cloak, and its unfeeling patchwork flesh.
Kriger called on Desna twice: once to allow Fijit to slip through the creature's hand and the other to smite the undead monstrosity... but nothing happened.
"What?" he screamed to no one in particular. "It's made of a dozen different corpses! It smells like formaldehyde! It's... son of a b!~@@, it's not undead. That's not good."
Waiting politely for Kriger to finish his tirade, Shalelu asked her own question of no one in particular "If it smells like formaldehyde, do you suppose it was the thing that lived in the Sawmill?"
Fijit, still at the monster's feet and deciding the time for rhetorical questions was over, shouted "I don't care, just shoot it!"
Rock and a Hard Place
The situation that had seemed under control moments before, rapidly began to look grim for Tobar. With Fijit slipping out of the monstrosity's reach and Xanesha pushing her advantage, he was pinned between the spear and scythe.
The others weren't faring much better, realizing there was little room between their enemies' weapons and the now-blazing curtains. Fijit and Shalelu took up position on Xanesha's divan, raining arrows down on its owner. Meanwhile, Kriger kept a channel open to Desna, knowing that was the only thing keeping Tobar standing.
Although ignoring the scythe-wielding creature took its toll, the group managed to lay Xanesha low.
With Xanesha out of the way, they turned their focus to the creature. Volley after volley of arrows thudded into it ineffectually, but eventually Tobar's sword brought it down.
As it fell into its component parts, Fijit exclaimed "Dibs on the scythe!"
Tobar looked from her, to the scythe. "It's twice your size."
"Exactly! It'll look badass!"
With the scythe spoken for and the curtains finally burning out, they turned their interest to Xanesha and the footlockers.
In the serpent woman's pouch, they found a coin of grey metal and a key. Handing the key off to Tobar, Kriger examined the coin. One side was emblazoned with the Sihedron while the other showed the Thassilonian rune for Prosperity. He wrapped it in cloth and tucked it into his own pouch.
Tobar unlocked the lockers after letting Fijit check them over for traps. They quickly discovered that they were all fabulously wealthy, particularly once they figured out what the enchanted items in the last locker were for.
Deeper and deeper
Checking over the rest of the room while the others counted coins, Shalelu found a crumpled note under the divan, thankfully spared the flames. Recognizing the writing as a form of Thassilonian, she handed it off to Kriger.
"Hmm," he said, "I'm not familiar with the dialect. It's not the one modern scholars use, that's for certain. It may be some sort of pidgin, but I can probably translate it, just give me a moment."
I trust your ragtag band of murderers is doing well, gathering Prosperity for our Lord. Has Magnimar proved to be as Prosperous as you hoped?
It may interest you to know that my little backwater has positively blossomed under careful guidance. Unlike your murderers' crude methods, my subjects beg to be marked with Xin's star.
I just hope that your inferior Prosperity does not dilute the real thing that I'm providing.
If you tire of your crude toys, you're always welcome to join me in Turtleback Ferry as my assistant. Perhaps, if you bag that politician you keep talking about, our Lord won't even be too angry with your failure.
Yours amid the icy spires,
With a new weight on their minds, they carefully made their way out from beneath the Irespan, hauling their newfound wealth.
No one made any move to stop them, much to Fijit's delight. "After all, who'd bother a gnome dragging a scythe twice her size? I told you: badass."
The group seems to be developing a rhythm of skipping to the boss fight, then making that into one giant throwdown encounter. I don't have a problem with this, but I have a feeling they might someday.
Xanesha got trapped way away from the window, so there's no way she was getting out. She went down like a champ, though. Especially once the Scarecrow got there and she could start flanking.
May I add it's a little weird to have a solitary big bad with sneak attack? Ironbriar had minions to flank with, but Xanesha as written is only get sneaks off of invisibility, which is kind of sad.
When Kriger found the coin, I set a physical representation of the coin on the table. It was fairly sweet. I printed them then wood-glued the two sides to a bit of card stock (punched from an old CCG card). It has a decent heft to it and looks, if not perfect, at least cool enough to make it clear what it's supposed to be.
I wasn't enthralled with the Sihedron amulets from the adventure as written, because they're not aligned with Karzoug at all. Any Thassilonian could have amulets like that.
So, I replaced them with adamantine coins that, back in the day, were used as the highest denomination of currency in Shalast. But they were spawned from a single adamantine meteor through transmutation and whoever holds the remaining heart of that meteor (i.e. Karzoug) can scry the coins and communicate with their holders. It's not omniscient, but it'll give them some complications once Karzoug becomes aware of them.
Also I'm inordinately proud of "yours amid the icy spires" for much the same reason. It just screams "hardcore Shalast nationalists" to me.
Overall, the Skinsaw Murders went great. The ghoul attacks and the first half of Misgivings were actually terrifying. The investigation let the less support characters shine some, although probably dragged on a bit. And the climactic battles were all suitably climactic.
Next time: Big sister?
Skinsaw Murders – Hook Mountain Massacre Interlude
Something in the Deep
With their immediate concerns taken care of, the Goblinslayers turned their attention to the weather. The rain was seemingly endless, more than even the elves could remember having come down in the past.
The four of them made their way back to Cynosure Tower on the hope that the priestess there had finished the map she'd promised them. She had not, but presented them with the results so far.
Tobar let the others huddle around the map. The three of them quickly agreed it was centered near the Storval Deep.
"Hmmm." Shalelu stared up at the temple's ceiling for a moment. "Isn't Turtleback Ferry right near the Storval Deep."
Fijit nodded and Tobar grinned with satisfaction. "Well, then we know where we're headed next."
Kriger held up one hand. "You have some things to take care of first."
Tobar looked slightly confused. "You mean Shayliss, don't you?"
"Well, you should take care of her too, but I meant your sword. It's good enough craftsmanship, I think we can get it enchanted... seems like a good investment for all of us."
Heading to the Bazaar of Sails, they quickly found the stall of the dwarven armsdealer who sold Tobar his blade and had translated the text along its blade.
Before launching into talk of enchantments, they quickly showed him the blade. "Hmmm, Lucrecia. Not a name I recognize. Not very dwarven, that's for damned sure."
Although the armsdealer couldn't lay so much as a simple light enchantment himself, he offered to have it sent to the clergy of Torag in Janderhoff. As a smith's son, Tobar understood the importance of keeping a blade "in the family," as it were.
They negotiated out a price, half to be paid up front and half on delivery, with the merchant providing a loaner sword of human construction for the intervening weeks.
After pooling their wealth to pay up their share and leaving, Kriger spoke up, "so, I still think this is a good idea, but we're broke now. How are we supposed to scare up that much money?"
Tobar shrugged. "It just seems to fall into our laps now. I'm sure it'll work out."
Back to Sandpoint
Using the last of their gold to replace their mounts devoured at Foxglove Manor, the adventurers made their way back to Sandpoint.
They had little official business to attend to, but had been out of town for quite some time. They promised their horses to Daviren Hosk if they survived this trip to the east. He waved off their offer, suggesting that the ones he'd given them before were gifts.
Shalelu visited her friend Ameiko, disappearing for most of the night.
Tobar took the opportunity to explain why he'd been out for the last several weeks to Sherrif Hemlock. Hemlock, in turn, gave his official blessing to their new mission investigating the rains. "I'll happily pay you for the whole thing and chip in a raise. Nobody'll complain if you can make it stop."
With his official business out of the way Tobar, unsurprisingly, spent the rest of the night with Shayliss.
Kriger dropped by Broderick Quint, discussing the note and the possible meanings of "the icy spires." Broderick filled him in on the runelords' nations and explained what little was still known of Shalast: it's great size and wealth, along with the legends of its gold-paved streets and adamantine vaults.
Fijit whiled away her night entertaining the patrons of the Rusty Dragon.
I've got some plans for the sword, so I'm glad that Tobar (and, really, the whole party) is buying into it.
Next: To Turtleback!