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Hey everyone! This is my first post to these forums, so I hope this is the right thread for what I have to share.
About a year ago, my group started playing RotRL with me as the GM. An early survey of my people (mostly 40-something guys and one 20-something lady) said they wanted a gritty, evil, horror-themed campaign. This is unsurprisingly easy to do, as the content of the first 3 books is already pretty satisfying in that regard. :-)
But I wanted to do something special for them. Something that would grab them by the feels after the opening festival and goblin attack. So, I started really digging into the AP-as-written story content for whatever horror elements I could find for my players. The subtext seemed to indicate that the worst of the shenanigans around Sandpoint actually began when the minor runewell under the town opened, 5 years prior to the start of Book One. Ok, cool. Perfect, in fact.
I decided that the emanations from the well were causing about 1% of the folks in town (within a mile radius or so) to go bat$H!t crazy, in one way or another. Their darkest urges, their most self-destructive behaviors, their vilest thoughts made manifest. I suspect that GM's who wanted to could also use this conceit to explain any number of insane, horrible things in the first half of the AP. The most obvious of these was Chopper, but what if Father Tobyn had also been affected? Given those assumptions, what if Nualia's actual backstory was a whole lot darker, and the backstory given in the AP was merely what was known publicly? What if the Heroes of Sandpoint had disturbing visions and nightmares, each and every night they stayed in town... until they eventually closed the runewell?
So I took a risk and wrote some dreams for them. These are the first two, written to be read out loud, and they were well-received (much to my relief). Just as a warning, there is some fairly gross stuff under those tags... please proceed accordingly:
Darkness. You hear a young woman screaming in pain, gasping for breath. An old, ugly woman stands upright, lit by nearby braziers. Her hair is filthy, and in knots. Twigs and leaves poke out every which way. You hear a newborn baby crying, but every few seconds the cry is underlain with a strange, sepulchur resonance.
“There, there,” murmurs the old woman, turning towards your viewpoint. She holds a small swaddled infant in her arms. Behind her, on a makeshift wooden bed, is an exhausted girl of late teen years, with white hair. There seems to be a lot of blood.
The old Hag reaches down and places her fingers on the girl’s forehead, leaving a dark smear.
”Ssshhh,” she says. “You are healed, for now.” A red glow briefly emanates from her fingertips, and the girl stops gasping in pain. Her breathing settles a bit.
You can see they are in an underground passage, nearly cut off from some unseen exit by a crude brick wall . You can hear heavy rainfall, and thunder.
A figure wearing dark robes and a rainsoaked cloak steps past the edge of the wall. It speaks. “Did it work?” he says, in a smooth baritone. “Is it…”
The Hag, still cradling the baby in the crook of one gnarled, emaciated arm, approaches the figure. It pulls back a heavy hood, revealing Father Tobyn’s face in the flickering firelight. His features are a mask, unreadable, but there is something apprehensive and dangerous about his demeanor. “I wish to... hold it...” he says.
The old woman smiles with rotten teeth, cruelty in her eyes. “Her child is Touched,” she crows, softly. “Or, perhaps, YOU are.”
She hands the swaddled newborn over to the Cleric. He gasps softly, and his visage cracks, revealing sorrow? Horror? Revulsion?
The baby begins to wail again in earnest, and you see it struggle slightly. A tiny red claw reaches out, each tiny finger tipped with a tiny black talon. The reverberance in it’s cries are felt, more than seen. But those feelings are unsettling; a whisper of the unholy.
The girl on the bed stirs. “Father,” she says, her voice thick with exhaustion. “My... our baby...”
Father Tobyn’s eyes are locked on the crying, Infernal infant in his hands. His eyes suddenly flare with rage. He snaps it’s neck with a single brutal gesture. There is a soft crack like a green twig. The crying ceases, instantly.
The teenager tries to sit up. “Father? What… what happened? He was crying! He needs me! I have to…!”
The Hag turns to her. “Ssssshhhh,” she says, sprinkling a spell component into the air. “Sleeeeeep.”
The girl slumps back down into the makeshift bed, unconscious.
Father Tobyn’s face returns to its former, impassive mask. “Dispose of this,” he says, handing the slaughtered child to the old woman.
The Hag’s eyes are alight with glee. “Yeesss.” she hisses. She tucks the still, silent corpse into a bundle near the wall. “And what of the girl?”
Tobyn pulls the hood over his head again. Thunder peals in the distance, and the rain outside the cave becomes more intense. “I believe the... child... satisfies your price for services?’
The Hag nods slowly, the glint of evil glee still sparkling in her dead gray eyes.
“Then let none ever know this came to pass. Seal her in.”
The hag smiles again, and begins to cast a spell to entomb their sins, forever.
“Awaken,” says a soft voice.
A girl with white hair opens her violet eyes, and immediately sits up. Her gamine legs dangle off the side of a stone table. “What? Where am I…? My baby…” Her hand strays to her midsection. She is wearing simple but worn homespun skirt, down to her knees. It is sleeveless, but clean, as is she.
“You are safe here,” says a soft, raspy voice. A small demon-like form with curled back horns and bat wings sits cross-legged on the other end of the stone table. “Our Mother saw to that.”
“Who… WHAT are you?” The girl looks around. Low, red light permeates the large chamber. Her voice echoes, hollowly. “ Am I in Hell?”
The demon laughs. “No, child. Our Mother - by whose grace you find yourself alive - appointed me caretaker long ago. Do you... remember what happened?”
“I remember being in a cave for days...” (splitting agony, nightmares, a hideous old woman) The girl gasps as it all comes rushing back to her. She buries her face in her hands and weeps. “He killed her, didn’t he…? Killed our baby…”
The demon sighs, somewhat theatrically. It’s voice carries a note of sympathy. “The fate that awaits all of us who are deemed Monsters by the self-righteous. Such was to be your fate as well.”
“But… I am not a monster… am I?” The girls beautiful face is streaked with tears and distorted with confusion and anguish.
“You are, indeed, my child. But to the Mother of Monsters, you are sacred.” The demon is now hovering before the girl, keeping aloft with casual wingflaps. “No mortal who gives birth to a planetouched child can ever be anything else.”
The girl looks crestfallen, angry, confused, disbelief in her expression. (flashes of fire, gnashing teeth, red claws, animal screaming). She shakes her head to clear it.
The demon gives her a spiky smile. “Those are his words, are they not? The words he said when you missed your moonblood? After so many times that he… ”
The girl’s voice is an enraged whisper, thick with grief and anger. “He… he said it would be a cursed child. He punished me. Said it was MY fault, for MY tainted blood.”
“He may have been correct,” the demon purrs. “But if you are to survive in your new life, you must embrace the new truths our Mother has placed before you.” The little demon gestures grandly, like a noblewoman laying out a feast.
The girl’s shoulders heave with angry sobs, her tears running down to drip off her chin. “My friends… they never…”
The demon shakes its head slowly. “They all trusted him, didn’t they? The good Father Tobyn.” The demon’s eyes hold an angry intensity. “You were sick, he said. And he was taking such good care of you, wasn’t he? Every few nights, he’d visit… and every few nights....”
The girls face twists into bitter rage. Her clenched fists are shaking. “I hate him!” she chokes out. Her voice is grinding like a whetstone on steel. “The things he did to me! I HATE HIM!” she screams at the top of her lungs. It echoes off the stone walls in the darkness. (a blackened figure writhing in pain, a soul crying out as it is taken, a voracious hunger)
The demon moves to the stone table, and comes to rest behind her. It places it’s gnarled hands upon her thin shoulders, and leans in close to her ear. “Yeessss….” it whispers. “Our Mother has spoken to you as you slept, has she not? Shown you the truth. To Her, your rage inside is a thing of beauty, far more than this mortal flesh.” It’s hands grip the girl’s shoulders tighter, in emphasis. “It will make you powerful!”
The girl’s voice hitches, as she speaks. “H-h-how? I can’t… I can’t stand this pain. I want to die! Why? Why didn’t I die?!” She trails off into silent weeping. (Firelight, a baby crying, oblivion)
The demon moves her head over the girls other shoulder, it’s hands gathering her tousled white hair away from her face in a matronly fashion. “Now, now,” it says.” Where there is life, there is *rage*. Where there is rage, there is *strength*. And you, Nualia, are one of the strongest… though you do not know it yet.”
The girls head is bowed, and she says nothing, still sobbing quietly. The demon takes flight again, and hovers before the girl, reaching a hand out again, this time to tilt her chin up to look into her eyes. “The Mother of Monsters takes care of her children, but they must first prove they are worthy. Would you like the pain to end?”
The girl blinks away tears and a fierce resolve hardens behind her eyes. “Yes. Yes.” She wipes away snot and tears, looking far younger for a moment. “What does your Mother ask of me?”
“What do all deities ask in return for their power?” says the demon, spreading its wings wider.
Nualia sits up straighter. “A pledge of faith?”
The demon nods. It conjures fire in it’s upturned claw. Nualia seems drawn to the demon’s gaze. The flame is twice reflected in the dark pupils of her violet eyes, red rimmed from crying.
Your viewpoint holds on Nualia’s face, as the demon’s otherworldly voice whispers: “An Offering.”
You seem to fall into Nualia’s eyes…
BLACKOUT … and then..
There is yelling, panic, the roar and crackle of a building burning. Blackened timbers like skeletal fingers reaching from a grave, wreathed in flame. The old Church of the Six Faiths is consumed.
People run chaotically around, trying to contain the blaze with rain barrels, ale kegs, whatever they can grab. But they are too late. The steeple groans, and then topples into the structure, collapsing the roof and sending a plume of embers swirling into the clear night sky.
The flare of light illuminates Nualia, standing 100 feet away, wearing a simple one piece frock and sandals. Hot air blows for a moment, pushing her hair back over her shoulders, revealing a soot-smudged face of remarkable beauty.
The girl smiles slowly. The flames which immolate the church are reflected in her eyes.
She turns, unspeaking, and walks alone into the darkness.
I have 6 or 7 more dreams, some much shorter and some a bit longer. All are designed to be read aloud at the table. I think they might be especially effective to emotionally plot-twist-gut-punch any "local PC who was in love with Nualia as a teen", since this seems to be a not-uncommon backstory for this AP. If you guys like the above scene, I can post the rest of them here. And of course you are invited to use them in your own game. :-)