|2 people marked this as a favorite.|
My players are currently in the middle of some downtime between Chapters 4 and 5 [I know the campaign didn't give them any, but they were exhausted from the Fortress of the Stone Giants and talked up what they wanted to do so much that I revised the material to let them], and, in the middle of all their personal subplots, decided based on one of those plots last night to go to Chopper's Island. Not what I was expecting at this point, but, hey, you gotta roll with these things, so....
The 4-man party are all 12th level at this point, and called in both of their recurring NPCs, making it a pretty heavy batch of folks. That gave them Tara, a Fighter 9/Blooded Noble 3 [PC]; Tressa, Cleric of Desna 8/Spherewalker 4 [PC], Xelgar, Rogue 6/Swashbuckler 2/Fortunate Son 3/Sorcerer 1 [PC]; Djordi, Sorcerer 3/Dragon Disciple 8/Wild Child 1 [PC]; Daelyn, Ranger 6/Fighter 6 [NPC]; and Shayliss, Rogue 2/Sorcerer 9/Wizard of Wrathful Flame 1 [NPC].
The party is spread all over the map at the start. Tara and Daelyn are at Ft. Rannick dealing with a visit from an earthbreaker-wielding local hero who’s personality was modeled on a loud professional wrestler’s ring persona [pick one]. Djordi is hanging out in Magnimar, trying to avoid the centaur Hellknight that he accidentally saw naked thanks to a misplaced teleport, and, according to his apprentice Shayliss, may have, in fact, now married because of that. Shayliss, his apprentice, is in Magnimar retraining a feat to learn a different weapon, spying on her friends in town to make sure they’re all right, and inflicting her non-sequiters on unsuspecting townsfolk. Tressa is in Magnimar, prepping for a blind date that Djordi set her up on, little knowing that it’s with a female mage the party knows. Xelgar is in Sandpoint, spending quality time with his wife, Ameiko and plotting his revenge on the Sandpoint Devil, which is stalking him like a B-movie supernatural serial killer after failing to kill him back when Xelgar was 8th level.
The local hero is handled in Ft. Rannick (for the moment), and Djordi dodges the centauress (for the moment). Tressa, despite her very firm hetero leanings, has a nice but non-romantic 'girl's afternoon out' with the female mage, but vows revenge on Djordi for getting her into this. Shayliss trains and spies and utters non-sequiters. Xelgar… Xelgar gets asked to go and have a look at one of the Kaijitsu tenant farms where a cow was ‘swallowed up by the earth.’ He asks around a bit, finds that most folks think it was just stolen by travelers or local ‘critters’ – although his wife suggests that there might be some of those ‘big bugs’ back again (ankhegs). He rounds up a few locals to go with him, starts out… and is stopped by the discovery of a human body just outside of town.
Said body (thanks to an episode of NCIS I saw last week) had been turned into what amounts to a jigsaw puzzle, with none of the pieces bigger than a cell phone. Xelgar stares at it, remembers the stories about ‘the Chopper’ from the early days of the campaign, and decides (not unreasonably) that he’s back. Based on that, he pays to send some magical messages to Magnimar to get Djordi to start people-moving folks back to Sandpoint. Djordi does so and the investigation gets underway.
After some discussion and a few spells, they determine that 1) the remains belong to a single individual; 2) it was, most likely, a human male about 6’ and 210 or so; 3) each and every piece of the remains has been lovingly enchanted with a spell so that it will never decay or rot and always remain fresh and ‘juicy’; 4) a series of Make Whole spells will, in fact, reassemble the body; 4) that there a few pieces missing (they suspect animals carried them off or that they were kept as sick trophies by the killer); 5) there were no animal tracks near the bodies, but some dogs appear to have circled the area of the remains and left; and 6) a Raise Dead won’t work because the man’s soul isn’t available to re-inhabit the body.
From this, they deduce that the killer is a supernatural entity (or at least supernaturally empowered) and that this represents some sort of escalation of the Chopper’s past killings (he only took eyes and tongues back then). They talk to their local expert, Shayliss, who tells them the information from the ‘History of Sandpoint’ section of Chapter One again, and this leads them to go to Chopper’s Island to make sure that the local constabulary did the job years ago.
Some climbing, a fly spell, and several comments from Shayliss about how ‘even drunk local boys trying to impress their girls aren’t stupid enough to climb a 100’ cliff to get to a haunted island’ later, they’re atop the island and looking around, and I am officially winging the hell out of things. When in doubt, ask players to make skill checks so… they start rolling Perception and Survival checks to scout out the island.
Based on hearing a woman walking their dog outside, they discover some human tracks that belong to, according to Daelyn, someone about 5’9” and no more than 135-145 pounds; either an elf, a woman, or a slender man. He also locates some pawprints that look like 3-4 animals were romping around with the walker; big things, like dire wolf size. He can’t decide if there were two identical walkers, or one more than once.
They move to the burned ruins, and check out there for a few minutes [Shayliss: “Oh! I found a copper piece!”] [Djordi: “All of the umpteen hundred birdhouses in the trees are masterwork quality.”] before locating the collapsed stairway to the underground areas that Shayliss told them were there. Several Stone Shapes from a staff retrieved from the Fortress of the Stone Giants later, they’ve cleared the stairway and are walking down it, marveling at the carvings on the walls of birds doing ‘bird things’ like catching worms, flying, singing etc.
Once downstairs, they first find the Chopper’s workshop, with his masterwork tools and twenty or thirty bird statuettes, birdhouses, and other things in mid-creation, all undisturbed from six years before. Next it’s a big wardrobe full of dozens and dozens of mason jars with a clear liquid in them. Then it’s a room with a cloak rack and a small basin filled by a bird fountain. From there, it’s a T-intersection, both sides of it making Tressa uneasy since they’ve walked into an Unhallowed section of ground, which sparks some player conversation and planning - because making players decide which way to go is always good for a few moments of time to think.
The party goes left, and, since I know there’s a chapel or something with the bird statue where Chopper was found down here, that’s what they find. My few minutes of time bought while they cast buff spells and rearranged the party order gave me time to pull up the Lamashtu write-up from the AP and confirm my memory that she and Pazuzu hate each other. A lot. And Pazuzu is a Demon Lord of birds. And Jervis carved birds, talked about birds and so on. So….
When they enter the chapel, it’s a rectangular room with two long thin tables making a sort of narrow approach to the statue. The tables are two-tiered, and lined with one mason jar after another (as many as Chopper had kills plus seven or eight) that each contain a pair of eyeballs and a tongue floating in clear liquid. [Tressa: “Are they looking at us?”] [GM who won’t turn down a freebie: “Yes. They all turn in their jars and watch your progress through the room.”] [Other Players: “Eww!” “That’s so cool!” “Now I *know* this place is evil!”] At the end of the room is the statue – which, in clear light, is revealed to be a statue of Pazuzu. [Shayliss: “I’m never eating chicken again!”]
Not having the time to deconsecrate the chapel, they search it, finding the bloodstained floor where the Chopper had removed his own eyes and tongue and then died, and discovering two sets of prints in the dust on the floor; Daelyn pronounces them to be the same as ‘upstairs’ and confirms them as either elves or women, since one set is wearing sandals but the other is bare-footed and shows the shape of the foot. Armed with that information, they move down the other corridor. Tara, using an item purchased after the encounter with the undead spider-things in the Fortress of the Stone Giants detects undead in the room ahead. (I didn’t know that there were undead involved until right then, but she asked and, hey, if a player wants to shell out thousands of gold to buy an item that lets them detect undead whenever they want, they ought to get *some* use out of the thing, right?)
They spell up and move into the room… to find it’s a library. But with bird statuettes, not books; thousands of coke-can sized bird statuettes (I had one in my hand when they asked how big the statuettes were), all different. They also find the undead, which, based on my seeing a copy of ‘Howl of the Carrion King’ to my left on the shelf, are at that moment, created as a pair of Katapeshi twin sisters (turned into vampires by the power of a PC’s question), one in a chain shirt wielding what I described as a ‘two-handed kopesh’ (she had the sandals) and the other wielding a staff with an ‘evil bird backed by wings’ cap on it, which I described as similar enough to the Sarenrae symbol that it was likely a mockery of it.’
Djordi fires off a metamagic-enhanced Magic Missile at Sandals – which fizzles on a Shield spell. [Sandals: “Ooooh! That was a big one!”] [Barefoot: “He cheated; they don’t come that big without cheating.”] [Shayliss: My master’s do!] [Djordi: “Ummmm….”]
Barefoot casts a spell, and announces that ‘They’re only adventurers’ which causes her sister to relax a bit and confuses the party even more. Several covert skill rolls later, Tressa identifies them as vampires, and the party gets more confused. Conversation ensues, as opposed to the combat that everyone expected. (Which was good for me, since I was going to have to be whipping stat blocks up on the fly, otherwise.)
The twins reveal that they were here to honor the life-long devotion of their fellow worshiper of Lord Pazuzu, Jervis Stoot, who had lived here for decades, watching over sacred sites of the B%@@& Mother, Lamashtu for signs of new activity. [The party: Blink. Blink.] Jervis was, they revealed, finally driven mad by the taint from the Lamashtan holy sites in the area, and escalated his rate of holy offerings to Great Lord Pazuzu to the point where he offered the final sacrifice, himself, too soon. [The party: Blink. Blink.]
The party questions them about the new murder, which confuses the twins. [Sandals: “That wasn’t us, we both offered sacrifices just before we left; we won’t have to do it again until the dark of the next moon.”] [Barefoot: “How was he killed? (after description) Oh no, that’s not how the Great Lord Pazuzu tells us to sacrifice. We take the old and sick out to the desert, and stake them out for the holy vultures to devour.”] [Party: Blink. Blink.]
This goes on for a bit, and I spin things from the twins into a discussion of Pazuzu and his cult based on the info from the AP sidebar and my own fevered imagination. This results in the sisters talking about, among other things: how Great Lord Pazuzu’s worshipers are a cult where each member sacrifices differently in some manner connected to birds; how nice it is to meet reasonable people after those tiresome Sarenraen clergy and their followers back home; that Jervis Stoot was worshiping Pazuzu by carving one of every kind of bird in the world but died before he finished; how forgiving Great Lord Pazuzu is of past misdeeds on the part of new worshipers when they join the cult (hint, hint); that the animal footprints were from the ‘sacred lions of Great Lord Pazuzu’ that they summoned for a nice walk and romp the previous evening; how the twins and Great Lord Pazuzu’s mutual interest with the party in hating Lamashtu and her minions and works and makes them so similar; how the damp air is terrible for the twin’s skin; and so on.
Finally the big reveal comes after someone asks the right question (and I’ve had time to think), and they tell the party that they’re here to fight Black Magga when she comes ashore at Sandpoint to destroy the city for defying Lamashtu so many times. [Party: “Black Magga?” “Again?” “Here?” “<expletive deleted> me!”] (That’s not in the AP, but I’ve always meant to come back and do *something* with Black Magga once the party was in a position to hang with her in a fight, so this seemed like a good way.)
More talking ensues, in which it’s revealed that neither the twins, nor Pazuzu, know why Sandpoint is so important to Lamashtu, and that they don’t really care. They just know that if she wants to destroy it badly enough for Black Magga to come here and do it in person, then they want Lamashtu to fail. More talking ensues, where I feed them the information that the twins only know Black Magga is coming before the dark of the next moon, and that Great Lord Pazuzu is sending no more help, since the twins were told that they were sufficient.
At this point, the party decides that making a deal with attractive female vampire demon cultists in the interest of saving Sandpoint is better than not having the twins’ help in fighting Black Magga (a moment that warmed my heart), especially since the only other alternative they can see is calling the Hellknights in, which everyone thinks is a bad plan. (They have no idea of the relative power levels involved since she romped all over them at Turtleback Ferry, and haven’t figured out that they can actually take Black Magga on their own at this point. I also found it hysterical that they thought the cultists were a better choice than the Hellknights for aid.)
The twins, who care nothing for Sandpoint or its citizens, are glad to make a deal if it means that Lamashtu gets one in the eye, and they can go home to the wonderful dry heat of Katapesh and away from this ‘vile damp miasma clinging to our skin.’ The deal is made, with the twins promising to help in the fight, or, if it’s daylight, to send Great Lord Pazuzu’s sacred lions to help and then do what else they could – but only if the party lets them pack up Jervis’ shrine and its contents and take them away with them to safety in Katapesh. (Unsurprisingly the party had little issue with this) At that point the party moved back to Sandpoint to plan which is where I stopped.
Nothing like the scenario I started out to run, which was about a serial killer who had come to Sandpoint to ‘test’ himself against the most ‘notable serial killer killers’ in Varisia, but hey, that’s the way they roll sometime.
Honestly, looking back at it, if the Pazuzu connection wasn’t in the original draft then it retrofits so perfectly that it certainly *ought* to have been.
Hope someone gets at least a bit of enjoyment, if not a game idea or two from this!
And now, to make my day complete, one of my players just came by to ask how 'all the other campaigns on the Paizo boards say they dealt with the vampire cultists?'
And I love the question...
Some of the best games are done on the fly. (And I'ma big proponent of letting the players' "better ideas" replace your own when fitting. I love the eyes and tongue in a jar thing.)
I've never been ashamed to steal an idea from my players - some of them have done it to me in other games.
Of course this now means I need to actually stat up the sisters but hey, I start my Legacy of Fire campaign with some ready-made NPCs that way. =)
Let me know how it works out for you (and them)! =)
In fact, I read James' thread by chance just after your own, so I finally rolled with his ideas instead, as my party has only just reached level 4, and it was a bit early to loose this on them. sorry about that.
However, they have made notes that they should return to investigate the monster tracks ... so it's only a matter of time.
Besides, what fun is any town without its own vampiric plague ? :)
I'll let you know, as soon as we get there, as the players are quite hooked, and are asking for more quicker than I can deliver.
I might do it with nosferatus, though, to decrease lethality. I'll see.